Thursday, December 10, 2009

Small Churches Should Merge

I scrolled down through my Facebook updates this morning and noticed the statement: "Small Churches Should Merge." I checked it out to see what it said. It was posted by someone in my denomination. He apparently started a
Facebook Group, so I joined it. He was the first member. By adding me, there are now two members.

When I pastored a church in rural Pennsylvania I noticed that the very small community had a lot of similar churches. Back then I thought about the advantages of putting two or three of those churches togehter into a stronger church of 100-200 people. There would be a financial savings on the buildings. More workers would be available. The church could probably have a staff of two pastors instead of the one pastor that each church already had. I can see some benefits.

I recognize thaqt there are drawbacks to the ideas of churches merging. But I propose that the advantages probably outweigh the drawbacks. I'm interested in seeing this topic as a discussion. Please post your thoughts.


  1. I would agree that there may be definite advantages to such a move, but there are a number of huge obstacles as well. I think it would take a certain type of minister and board/s to make such a transition positive (or even possible). I also know that the congregation that would be made from the joining would not be the two as one, but would be something altogether quite different (as an aside--my denominational District Superintendent has told me emphatically that he has never seen a larger more healthy congregation result from such a move--it has always resulted in one congregation that is nearly as small as each of the two individually before joining and now has the extra difficulties of two 'groups' within the church that are struggling to find their place). Also, the question of denominational affiliation, docrinal statements, etc. are questions not easily settled. The question of who maintains/surrenders leadership is also very important. Who would be the lead of the two or someone altogether different or would the pastorate somehow be shared? Who would serve on the joined board? Who would teach the various classes? What ministries of the churches would continue and/or be combined or completely changed/done away with?

    I guess I have some thoughts about these things in part because we've actually had discussions here between my church and another. We've even had several joint board meetings to discuss such things, but it would appear that for now this will not be going any further forward. The obstacles (only a few) were too insurmountable given the current contexts.

  2. I think small facebook groups should merge.

    Seriously, I am a pastor of a small church. We run around 50 on a good day. We are the only reformed Baptist church in the area, so there is no way anyone would want to merge with us.

    More importantly, the church is not about resources or buildings or programs. Just because a church doesn't have all that doesn't mean they aren't doing God's work with God's people.

  3. Good comments Rick and Doug. In order to keep this going a little bit further, I'm going to advocate on the side of mergers.

    From a theological standpoint, don't all of the true churches in a community make up the "church" in that location? Doesn't it seem in the New Testament that a group of house churces was served by a common group of elders? Wouldn't it be a great testimony to the unsaved people around us if churches could get along and work together instead of split?

    The type of successful merger that I imagine might include churches of different predominant races or social classes. Bringing them together successfully would be a tremendous incarnation of the gospel.

    I also imagine mergers where both congregations and locations continue to exist as they were, but the leadership (elder board) and staff are combined.

    Another positive type of merger might be a new, growing church that does not have property that is able to join a smaller, perhaps dying congregation that does own a sufficient building.

    In all of these mergers it will be important for humility to be a dominant trait of the leaders and the people. Selfishness and pride are sins that would severely hurt any merger.

  4. On a positive father-in-law successfully transitioned a church he had pastored many years into a merger with another struggling congregation that was slightly larger and more financially stable (but we all know how quickly those factors can change :-). That congregation was joined about 25 years ago and has continued to grow and flourish and is a great testimony in the community of the redeeming and transforming power of Christ.

    One other thought...what is the motivating factor in the merger? Finances? Attendance? While 'unity in Christ' as His Church would be ideal, this doesn't typically cause ANY churches to merge. We merge for pragmatic reasons (because we need a VERY significant reason for doing so) and not really theological reasons (however much we may wish to justify or spiritualize our motivations). As far as living like the One Church of the Lord in a community...this is being done (somewhat at least) in my present community through certain joint services (not all the churches participate though many do), a strong cooperative ministerial association, comradery among the ministers and many in the congregations, etc. I would personally rather see numerous 'flavors' of churches in my community (some being more and some less 'flavors' that I would understand to be true to the Scriptures) than just one really large one. Just some more thoughts.

  5. Rick, your account of your dad-in-law's church reminded me of a situation that occurred when I was in high school. My dad was pastoring a small, but fairly new congregation. Another group (which had splintered off from somewhere else) approached us about joining in with us. I think that there were about 30 people that came to our congregation that way. It wasn't as much of a merger as it was an "absorbtion," but it was certainly beneficial and profitable for all involved. It gave the church we were at a lot more stability (prior to that happening there was some thought about whether the church was going to survive financially).

    As far as the motivation- I'm still in hypothetical situations right now, but I'm thinking through these things. When I've considered the issue in the past my thought has been that it should be motivated by the will of God (obviously) and also by the desire of both congregations to accomplish more ministry for God's glory. The research I've looked at says that the mergers that are successful are the one's that are driven by mission/vision.

  6. Pat D. says:

    From a layman point of view: If churches were really only about God and his plan of salvation thru Jesus Christ then small churches merges would be practical and beneficial. So I can see how a Pastor would support such an idea. However for better or worse, many people bring a lot of baggage to their decision of which church to attend (my parents went there, there's too many old people there, their music is too fast/slow, they use the wrong version of the bible ...). That is why I think that there are so many small churches. Kind of the same reason we have so many separate school districts in NJ - the concept of home rule. Which ends of costing taxpayers lots of $$. Personally, I kind of like a kind of socialized worship (pro mergers) but most peeps can't let go of their past traditions for it to be a reality.

  7. Pat brings up the primary oposition I noticed in PA- "my grandparents went here, I come, my kids will always come- don't change a thing" combined with- "that other church is made up of a bunch of people who used to go here and left- there's a reason we are in different churches."

    The only way a merger works is by the grace of God and a lot of humility and selflessness from everyone involved.

  8. When I was young my family went to a very small store front church in Brooklyn. So small there was no Sunday School. Very little except Sunday Service, a great Christmas program and participation in the local parade. Anyway, my mom actually sent us six kids to the much larger church up the block (literally a 2 minute walk). We would go to Sunday School and then the teacher would walk us up the block to meet our parents at the other church. We often went to the potluck dinners at the larger church and even had their missionaries over our house for dinner. My mom would pay them to iron and help babysit. We also went to VBS at the big church. But Sunday service was at the smaller one perhaps because our grandma was there. Funny stuff now that I think about it. I think that the smaller church is still there but the larger one is gone. Ironic. What did I learn from either? i still remember the classic christian music from both. I learned to love missionaries from the larger one but I learned how to help others myself from the smaller one.
    Pat D.

  9. Hey Dave,
    I thought of your post here when I read an article today in a journal I get that specifically deals with the issue of church mergers. I thought you might be interested. You can read it at: