According to Leadership Network, 2% of all U.S. Protestant churches have merged in the last two years and 8% more are planning on it within the next two years. That represents some 30,000 churches. Is this a trend or a blurp?
In 2003 Dave Travis and I wrote briefly about mergers in our book Beyond the Box. At the time the examples we had were mostly small, weak churches merging with somewhat larger and stronger churches. In many cases the weaker church might not have survived without the merger. Also, many of these mergers were more like absorption.
What we are seeing today is much different- the merger are more about being able to provide for effective mission. Case in point, when a Word of Grace Church 4,000 merged with the smaller (but not small) CitiChurch church of 1500 in Scottsdale, AZ. The two churches chose a new name: City of Grace. Obviously, this merger, and many more like it, was not done from the standpoint of survival, but in order to deliver a more powerful and effective ministry, now in two locations.
Now here’s my question and observation: why is it that so few of these mergers are found within the ranks of mainline denominations?
Here is where being an independent church, or loosely affiliated association, has it over being affiliated with a denomination – especially a mainline denomination – they are more flexible and can move with the times. Most mainline denominations appear to prefer fighting than switching. They appear to value their buildings and heritage more than God’s mission, whereas most of the newly-formed congregations value mission over heritage.
What is it about mainline churches that make them so tied to location, location, location when most of them have such a poor location in the first place? Why cling to the past when the present is offering so many new possibilities to serve and spread the Word? It simply blows my mind.
Take my denomination for example. In our desire to have a church in every village as the country moved from the East to the West, we Methodists devised the best delivery system the world has known: the circuit rider. The only reason we took the country by storm was because of the willingness of these selfless men to give their life in pursuit of a mission (the average life span of a circuit rider was 18 months). Why can’t we be that bold today? I think it is because we value being Methodist more than we value being an effective witness to God’s mission in the world. What do you think? Let me know.
I would also like to hear from you if you know of any two mainline congregations (both over 500 in worship) merging. Just make a comment and share the info.
Question: In your view, what are the pros and cons of church mergers? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.