Leadership Network recently released a new book called, “Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work” by Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird. A first of it’s kind; the book provides readers with an incredible guide to help them navigate their way through this new world of church mergers. It is filled with real-world accounts, tangible research, helpful tools, transferable principles, and a new framework for language on the subject. Anyone considering a church merger or wanting to stay current on what is happening in the modern church needs to pick this book up.
Here’s Part-1 of my interview with Scott and Chad:
Paul: When I talk mergers with people the first question everyone wants to know the answer to is, “How did this happen?” So take a moment and walk us through the story about Bethany Community Church merging with Sun Valley Community Church.
Scott and Chad: We had been thinking about it at the Executive-level of our staff for some time. We knew that in the near future our current campus in Gilbert, situated on 9 acres, would max out attendance between 4,000-4,500 and the relocation option was too expensive. So we initiated some conversations with churches that we knew of who were struggling and where momentum was waning. Through our involvement with Leadership Network we had been influenced on our ideas about multisite being around guys like Greg Surratt, Larry Osborne and Mark Driscol. When we first approached our Board they were hesitant about the idea. But we gave them each a copy of Multisite Church Revolution to read and discuss the next time we got together. At our next meeting it was the Board saying we need to do this. We had a couple of start and stops along the way. There was an opportunity to purchase the facility of a dying church, another time there was a gentleman in the church who said he was going to donate a large sum of money to be used towards a multisite. While neither of these options became reality it forced us to begin preparing and start dreaming. As we approached different churches about the idea, at the request of our Board, the biggest consistent obstacle to potential merger that kept coming up in many churches was the blind pride of existing leadership. Thinking that they were okay even though they had been plateaued or in decline for years. Financial stability became the indicator for health and survival, not Kingdom impact, growth or momentum.
When the idea of approaching Bethany Community Church surfaced we thought it was too big of a step to take. Bethany had a beautiful built out campus, was debt free, had a history as a large influential church back in the day, and the campus is located on 14 acres right next to a freeway. But momentum had waned and they had been in decline for over 15 years. In initial meetings with their pastor he indicated that they had been playing defense for too long, and in football no one every says, “that offense is tired.”
Paul: It’s one thing to get a positive vote and officially merge, it’s a whole other thing to role up your sleeves and do the hard work after the vote. What are some of the unforeseen obstacles that you’ve run up against?
Chad: Honestly we were surprised by how much that had to change on the original campus to make this happen. Particularly when it comes to Scott and his leadership. No one has gone through more change in this than Scott. To transfer culture and provide strong leadership we chose to have Scott lead out on the new Tempe Campus. To do that he had to leave a campus where he had literally helped build the first building with his bare hands.
Scott: There is always sacrifice and loss involved significant change. This change, required great trust in other leaders and incredible sober mindedness. We thought things were really good on the original campus, but we discovered that we couldn’t articulate things well enough to be reproduced quickly on two new campuses (Sun Valley has also begun a new campus south of Phoenix in Casa Grande). We discovered that we needed to go back to the drawing board to clarify some things; we had actually out grown many of our systems. We had gotten very focused on the merger and the future and clarity had been lost during that period of time regarding vision, values, and our pathway.
Paul: Sun Valley and Bethany chose to bring Jim Tomberlin from Multisite Solutions to the table as a consultant to walk both parties through this journey. What was your experience like with Jim?
Scott and Chad: A neutral party like Jim can say some hard things to both parties involved. He helped us define reality very well in the process and mapped a clear course forward. The best consultants have the ability to help their clients “understand the king doesn’t have any clothes on” and help navigate potential landmines. Jim helped us walk through 25 things that every church needs to talk about in a potential merger. He laid the track out for us to run on. He helped us articulate not only is this feasible, but also is it wise. Jim helped us work through pages of documents over and over and over again. By the time it got to the public phase it had been wrestled with so much that all of the leaders involved were using the same language and on the same page. At the end of the day Jim was seen as an objective party with expert experience. He gave us real hope that it was feasible, that this could be done, because it’s been done, and he’s been a part of it.
You can read more about Sun Valley’s story in chapters 12-13 as well as in Appendix B and C of the book “Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work.”
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