better together: making church mergers work (part two)

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.

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with the Lead Pastors at Sun Valley Community Church, Scott Ridout and Chad Moore, whose merger story is told in the book, “Better Together.”

Here’s Part-2 of my interview with Scott and Chad:

Paul: Research has shown that most mergers don’t grow in the first year. Yet Sun Valley’s original Gilbert Campus has almost grown 10% year over year and the new Tempe Campus has almost doubled since the time of the merger. What do you attribute that to?

Scott and Chad: Part of this is due to all of the hard work and communication leading up to the vote. But the first 90 days after the vote were all about preparing for the future and defining reality, honoring the past and embracing the future. We quickly moved to 2 services, keeping one service traditional (yet excellent) and the other service is a typical contemporary Sun Valley style service. We embraced clear communication, launched with excellence, and kicked off with a great high interest teaching series during a normal time of momentum that combined, all worked together as a series of quick wins. We focused on winning over the staff by doing what we said we would do and earning trust. We purposefully had staff gatherings together before the merger so the Bethany Staff could see how we did training, did meetings, and could see what the culture of the team was like. They were hungry for learning and leadership. They had been managing well, but had not been personally developed and empowered to lead. The fact that the Staff believed in this thing can’t be overstated. We made a few strategic hires on the Creative Arts side of things so we could have a common excellent weekend experience on all of our campuses. Christmas Eve services were all about opportunity and vision, something that was new for the Tempe Campus. And they began experiencing teaching on the weekends with a leadership bias. We just finished redoing the parking lot. It seems simple but it was something that needed to be done for years, and now it’s done in the first 3 months after the vote. Real. Tangible. Change. We baptized 38 people this winter on the Tempe Campus. That’s 2 times as many that had been baptized in the last 2 years on that campus. Honestly the list goes on and on. There are some things we can’t explain too. The truth is God has been very gracious to us. We did everything we could do. But why did new people start showing up when they weren’t invited, why did the preschool grow with no new advertising? The hand of God has been on this from the beginning. At the end of the day this is all about Jesus.

Paul: In the book Tomberlin and Bird use the term “Adoption” to describe the kind of merger that Sun Valley went through. Elaborate on that if you could.

Scott and Chad: One morning early on in the process we were at breakfast at IHOP with some of the Elders from Bethany and Jim Tomberlin. It was there for the first time that he redefined the language as an Adoption Model, where there is a lead church and a follow church. Up until that point we were using the metaphor of marriage. It was still a family term but Jim helped us see that this was less of a marriage and more of an adoption.

Paul: This probably isn’t the last time Sun Valley is going to be involved in some kind of a merger. Would you do anything different next time?

Scott and Chad: It has to be different next time. We most likely won’t be able to do as much live teaching on that new campus. We’ll probably move at a faster pace in the process next time. We will still take top tier leadership over there to transfer culture, but do more to speed it up with core volunteers going as well. We will not commit to keeping staff like we have in the past; we will evaluate team members individually and keep top performers and reduce duplication of roles.

Paul: What would you say to churches that are considering a merger right now?

Scott and Chad: Church Mergers are both an art and a science. The science involves the chemistry of leadership. Are we like each other, do we like each other, how will this be structured and run? Does the congregation need to vote on this, what is the percentage? Every church has some sacred cows, items that are untouchable that need to be identified. The art involves building trust, staying vision oriented, teaching, creating discontent with our current reality and painting a picture of a preferred future.

Remember you’re not a politician you’re a pastor. You’re not lobbying for votes to do this. If the reason a church doesn’t want to do this is because they don’t want to reach new people, then they need to repent.

Make no concessions for anything that is outside of your vision or values. You can’t make a promise and then break it, because your credibility is at stake and it will affect the next leadership moment that comes along. Make a few promises and fulfill them all. Shoot straight and live up to what you say. When it comes to programs and methodologies don’t make it an issue of good versus evil, or right versus wrong, but good versus great. There are many good ways to do it we’re looking for the one great way.

A consultant is necessary. The lead church can’t say the hard things. A neutral party helps unless there is already a very strong relationship between the two churches. Jim helped us have conversations that we would have not otherwise had. By the way, if there is any way possible both churches should split the fee of the consultant, it’s a simple way both churches can show that they are vested in the process.

Finally we can’t talk about this without talking about the necessity for humility on both parts, for the lead church and the following church. Everyone is coming to the table to learn, this is especially important on the part of lead church. The currency in the whole exchange is trust and you can’t over emphasize that enough.

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.”

If you missed Part-1 of my interview with Scott & Chad you can check it out here.

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