Church mergers are becoming more commonplace, and for a lot of reasons it’s a movement that I believe we’ll see more of in the future. In fact Sun Valley Community Church, the church I have the pleasure of serving at, has experience beginning two new campuses through mergers in the last couple of years.
There are a lot of things that can go right…and wrong in a church merger. But if your church is considering a merger in the future make sure the Sr. Leadership Teams from both churches consider and discuss the following 10 potential deal breakers, and get on the same page before bringing the idea to your individual churches.
Is there theological alignment between the two churches? Do they share the same views on potentially contentious issues such as sign gifts, drinking alcohol, divorce, or the role of women in ministry? What do they both believe about the Bible, baptism, salvation, and other theological issues?
This is a step further than just addressing mission, vision, and values. Many churches go into a merger idealistically thinking that they will merge their cultures. This very rarely works out. While it’s possible to build on strengths and adopt best practices from both churches one culture will and should overtake the other if it’s truly going to become one church. Is the culture of each church similar or does one need to “wash over” the other one? How is that going to happen?
What is your strategy to merge the staff of the two churches? Is there redundancy in staffing between the two churches? If both churches have a Sr. Pastor what will happen to the Sr. Pastor of the joining church? Are the pay and benefit structures comparable between the two churches or are there major adjustments that need to be made? What severance packages need to be built for staff that may not have a job as a result of the merger?
How similar are the two churches form of church governance? Are they staff led or board led? Will Board Members of the joining church serve on the existing Board? What does the congregation vote on and not vote on? Is each church a denominational church or non-denominational church? What committees are in place at each church if any?
Is the budget from each church similar? Does each church design the same percentage of their budget to go towards staffing, missions, ministry, weekend services, facilities, and administration? What about debt? What is the cash position of each church?
Are the functional ministries of each church similar? Which ministries are considered “untouchable” at each church and why? Which ministries will be replicated at both churches and which ones won’t? Which ministries will you stop doing after the merger and how will you close those ministries down? What strengths and best practices at each individual church need to be adopted and built on after the merger?
Who will be the primary communicator of this new church after the two churches merge to become one? Will the teaching be the same or different on each campus or location of this new church after the merger? Will you deliver teaching in the weekend services live or via video?
8. Leading the Congregation
Logistics are where most people go to when it comes to the conversation about church mergers. “How are we going to do this?” But one of the most overlooked and perhaps most important issues is leading each congregation through the merger. How will the Sr. Pastor and Sr. Leadership Team of the leading church build trust with the congregation of the joining church? Will they preach over there multiple times, will you conduct town hall or “ask anything” meetings with Sr. Leaders? Will you provide a written set of FAQ’s for each church? How will you communicate with each church so they know what to expect through this process? How will you gain their buy-in?
How will this decision to merge actually be made and ultimately who makes the decision? What do the by-laws of each individual church require? If a vote needs to take place by each congregation, how will you conduct the vote? What is the lowest percentage of a positive vote that needs to happen at each church for the merger to take place?
Another often-overlooked area to consider is the launch phase. Once the merger is voted on, how will you launch and “grand open” this newly merged church? Will one church adopt new signage and branding? Will both churches go through a “re-branding” to a new “brand” that each church will adopt? Will one church shut down to be physically renovated to add technology and interior design features to look like the other church and then reopened? How will you market to and let the community know about this new grand opening?
If you’re interested in learning more about church mergers I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of Better Together by my friends Warren Bird and Jim Tomberlin.