5 Questions to Consider Before a Church Merger

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Church mergers have become an important part of the church revitalization conversation. Stories of new life and community impact are beginning to emerge as more struggling churches consider partnering with another church.

As one might imagine, mergers can be delicate situations, too. Ample times of joint prayer, question-and-answer sessions, conversation and learning have resulted in greater success in the journey, as well as right decisions for a course of action. Remember this is a spiritual decision first and foremost, not a pragmatic one. Therefore, seeking the heart of God through prayer and study of the Bible cannot be overemphasized!

Be aware that if both churches are currently struggling, the odds of a successful merger are very low. Generally, the best mergers occur when one church is prevailing and the other church is absorbed into that church’s identity. There are many theological, cultural, procedural and polity questions that must be addressed over the course of time.

Here are five kinds of questions to ask for initial conversations around mergers:

  1. Why?
    Are we merging merely for survival or for true Great Commission impact on our community and beyond? This question is the most important. Churches that merge just to survive rarely do, much less thrive. The Lord’s Church stays on mission. Both churches must honestly answer this question.
  2. What?
    What is the new church’s identity? Will it be one new church, or will it retain the name, location, etc., of one of the current churches? Are the core beliefs of the two churches compatible? The merger may result in very little theological or polity change, but it may be significant.
  3. Who?
    Who will be the leadership? Will both staffs merge? Will the lay leadership merge? Do the leadership structures align? Does one church have deacons and the other have elders? If both churches currently have pastors, one must be willing to yield to the other or leave altogether.
  4. Where?
    Is one location going to be used or both? Which location is most strategic for reaching the lost and making disciples?
  5. When?
    Set as long a timeline as possible. The merger may be driven by desperate circumstances on the part of one church — such as running out of finances to keep the lights on — but this desperation should not lead to haste. (See question one above.)

Of course, there is one big question that varies based on the answers to the above questions — how? It is tempting to start with how, but that needs to wait until the why question is clearly answered and all of the others are at least considered.

Recommended Resources:

Better Together is the gold-standard in research and stories of church mergers. It is long, but worth it.

There is a shorter e-book from the North American Mission Board called Mergers that may also be helpful. It is more focused on a church plant merging with an existing church.

Two fact filled articles: “Church Merger Challenges and Costs” and “Top Ten Church Merger Facts.”

Do You Know Your Story?

What’s your story? Everyone has a story about life, hopes, fears, joys disappointments. We live in a day where people are captivated by stories. People can tell the stories in their lives that are most meaningful to them. This should be especially true about our faith. In his book, A New Way To Be Human, Charlie Peacock challenges Christians to, “Know the story you profess to be participating in. Know it well and tell it with enthusiasm.” That statement inspired the theme for the North Carolina Baptist Disciple-Making Conference coming up on February 23 at Center Grove Baptist Church in Clemmons, NC: One Story.

The purpose of the conference is to help Christ-followers to hear the stories of the people around them, connect their own stories with the stories of others, and ultimately share the One Story that unites all of our stories; God’s story of hope, forgiveness, and redemption through Jesus Christ. If you are in North Carolina, I hope you will consider coming to this conference featuring Ed Stetzer, Robby Gallaty, Afshin Ziafit, and Jon Erwin. The conference is free and will feature over a dozen equipping sessions with hands-on application for hearing, connecting, and sharing God’s story with those around you.  Lunch is $7.00 with limited space. You can register here!

Turning Toward Mission, Step One

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Photo Credit: Lel4nd via Compfight cc

Last week I wrote about the need for churches to turn outward and amplify the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I also promised practical steps for making your church systems a megaphone for making disciples. We are all seeking effective approaches. Everyone is seeking the steps that will lead to success. I am always reluctant simply to give a pragmatic answer. The books, articles, seminars–and blogs–offering the step-by-step approach are legion. But no matter what system or steps one chooses to implement, I believe true missional realignment in ministry or in your personal life comes from two key ingredients. The first is spiritual renewal. The second is disciplined, hard work. I want to focus on step one. [Read more…]

Funnel or Megaphone?

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Photo Credit: Stig Nygaard via Compfight cc

Funnels and megaphones are essentially the same shape. The difference is in application. Most church systems-even the coolest and most progressive-operate like funnels. Churches plan outreach strategies, attractional services, or events designed as entry points to gather people from the masses. Maybe they even inspire church members to “invest and invite,” but the outcome can be the same. People are “poured” into the big end of the funnel and collected into the church’s systems. This is referred to as assimilation. It’s a noble enterprise. The intention is to gather people as the church and develop them within the system to become disciples of Christ. Too often, though, the means becomes the end. [Read more…]

Shaped by Mission

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Photo Credit: timtom.ch via Compfight cc

Should the church shape the mission or should the mission shape the church? It sounds like a “chicken and egg” comparison, but if you are a Christian your answer will determine your trajectory as a disciple of Jesus.

Christopher Wright reminds us that, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world but that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission–God’s mission” (The Mission of God, 62).

In other words, mission should define church. Church should not define mission. In The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch puts it this way: “Christology determines missiology, and missiology determines ecclesiolgy…It is Jesus who determines the church’s mission in the world, and therefore our sense of purpose and mission comes from being sent by him into the world” (142). We must start with what we believe about Christ, which determines what we believe about our mission, which in turn should determine how we form and practice church.

Consider these words of Jesus about our mission:

“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

Consider these words about Jesus and our mission:

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (Hebrews 13:12-13).

Not only should mission define church, it should shape church. Conventional churches conform the mission to the shape of the church. This looks like hosting evangelistic events and expecting the spiritually unconvinced to come, like that trunk or treat scheduled for later this month. It looks like encouraging (or shaming) church members to bring their unconvinced friends to the building, campus, or event. It looks like a visitation program that fits evangelism into the church schedule at the convenience of the church member with little consideration for the schedules or privacy of the one visited. It looks like a calendar so filled with campus-located activities that members never have margin to be around the people that Jesus went outside the gate to die for! This is a church-shaped mission.

What if we conformed church to the shape of the mission? This would be unconventional church. What if we looked at the culture and the context of the people we are trying to reach and tailor our mission to living among them – just like the missionaries we send overseas do? What if we stopped inviting people into our buildings and started inviting them into our lives? What if we started introducing them to the truth of Jesus on their turf instead of trying to get them onto ours?

What if, once they embraced the claims of Christ, we planted the church among them? What if this new church was shaped by an ongoing mission to reach deeper into their culture instead of ripping them out of their mission field and assimilating them into our programs? What if we stopped spiritually neutering new believers by busying them in our buildings instead of equipping them to bear fruit in their own communities?

What if we, in the words of the author of Hebrews, got outside the camp? That’s where Jesus is!

What if we, in the words of Jesus, lived as if we were sent by him into the world? That’s how he told us to live!

Here’s my confession: Lately I’ve let the conventional church encroach on my mission. No more. By God’s grace, I vow to let mission shape my view of church.

What would that look like for you?

How To Make Disciples Who Make Disciples

I’m passionate about the Why and the What of disciple-making. I can talk about the theology and philosophy of disciple-making all day. Yet, I’m also aware that there is a rising awareness and conviction among people about the importance of making disciples  (see #3 in my denomination’s recent report on declining baptisms) and they’re asking the next question after Why and What. They want to know How. The fact is we won’t create a disciple-making culture until we are making disciples and teaching them to do the same!

Here’s one approach to disciple-making, called the triad model, that I have used effectively in both established church and missional settings. [Read more…]

Doing Evangelism Differently

I live in a small subdivision in the suburbs. In an effort to stay informed and communicate with one another, our community has a Facebook group. Three times in the past three months there have been posts on our Facebook page about strange people going through our neighborhood. In each case words like “beware” or “heads up” were used to alert us to the danger of these people, letting us know how they were dressed and that they were carrying books that looked like Bibles, and that they were probably “religious.”

 No Soliciting
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In the last of these instances, earlier this week, my neighbor politely asked them to leave because our neighborhood has a sign clearly posted at the entrance that says “No Soliciting.” The visitors were, by my neighbor’s account, very rude to him. It turns out that these visitors were Jehovah’s Witnesses canvassing our neighborhood with invitations for an upcoming event. [Read more…]

Doing Church Differently: Leadership Factors


One of the challenges that must be confronted in doing church differently is leadership. The church in the United States has taken its form and identity from that Christendom worldview, yet our context is increasingly post-Christendom. This shift must cause us to examine our paradigms of leadership. The radical separation of clergy from the laity is certainly a holdover from Christendom. In his book, Unfinished Business (originally published as The New Reformation), Greg Ogden supports this idea by noting that while the Protestant Reformation reclaimed the Scriptures for the people, it did not reclaim leadership and ministry for the people. 

Follow the leader
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Jesus was clear in the Great Commission that the role of every disciple, not just pastors, is to make disciples. [Read more…]

The Church’s Identity Issues

I have previously staked my claim that much of how we do church in North America has its roots in a Christendom mindset. If the modern church was born out of Christendom it has been raised in consumerism. In fact, I would press the point to say that churches and church models—even the most progressive—find their identity coming more from a Christendom and consumerism paradigm than a biblical paradigm. Biblical images of church have given way to images of church that are spawned from history or contemporary culture.

All plastic shopping carts.
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In A Light to the Nations, Michael Goheen offers nine images of the church that reflect the legacies of Christendom, the Enlightenment, and consumerism more so than the Bible. [Read more…]

Should We Do Church Differently? Cultural Factors

Many commentators on culture agree that the United States is quickly moving into a post-Christendom context. Tim Chester and Steve Timmis observe that in a Christendom context, “the assumption is that Christianity should have privileged status in the cultural and political discourse of the nation…But the reality of Christendom is fading fast, overtaken by secularism and pluralism” (Everyday Church, 19). In other words, Christians are finding themselves more and more on the margins of society. While this is the context in which we find ourselves, the dominant models for church, evangelism, and mission are reflective of a Christendom mindset. Consequently, even the most contemporary reflections of these standard models struggle to make disciples.

The Separation Of Church And State
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In On the Verge, Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson posit that even the most progressive forms of church found in North America will likely be acceptable to—at best—40% of the population. This may be a generous number. “The brute fact,” say Hirsch and Ferguson, “is that most of the evangelical church leaders who will read [their book] will be white, suburban, and middle class, and the equally stark reality is that within decades, Anglo-Saxon Americans will be in the minority in the U.S.—yet our churches don’t seem to be responding to this reality” (27). We must begin to raise up leaders to go to the other 60%: those who will likely never be attracted to the church on the corner, no matter the dress code or music style. [Read more…]