“Work in partnership with others to accomplish goals”

November 10, 2018

By Carl Martin, Member, Piney Grove/Wesley Chapel/First Jonesville United Methodist Church, Appalachian District. 

Most churches that are located in small communities have less than 75 members on roll with only 25% regularly attending Sunday worship service and 20% of those attending paying tithes. Many of these congregations like the one I attended barely have enough money to pay their pastor’s salary, let alone launch a movement or host a conference. How can they hope to make an impact beyond their own walls?
As pressures on small community-based churches increase and the issues they face become more complex, the idea of a church merger/partnership can hold much promise. Through mergers/partnerships we can contribute our part and also reap the benefits of others’ efforts. We can accelerate learning and distribute skills and knowledge. Also, we can add depth and breadth to our community impact.
When I first began to hear about the possibility of a church merger, I was quite skeptical with two of the three churches being predominately black and the other, 98% white. Would churches be able to let go of their control in order to become a new church, or would the three groups be forever arguing about who is right and who is wrong? Is it possible for three segregated churches to work together for the sake of the gospel?
Since the time I first began to ask these questions, I have had the opportunity to serve God as a member of a segregated church merger for almost four months. I’ve learned firsthand that church mergers are not for the “faint-hearted.” 
Most churches are not aware of their own unique identity and “church culture” until there is a merger. After the merger, congregations discover that “the way things have always been done” is not the way the other churches have functioned.  Things that are “sacred” to one group may not even be known to the others.
There is a mistaken assumption that all Christians will automatically love one another because we are one in Christ. Many faithful people enter into mergers/partnerships expecting to be one big happy family, only to be disappointed that the people from the “other churches” have different ideas of how “family” should function.  
If you are considering a merger, or in the midst of a merger, expect that giving birth to this new life together is not without pain and frustration. Some members will leave but make every effort to reach out to all current members.  Leadership often changes. Sharing decision making and compromising on certain issues are not easy tasks. Intentional relationship building takes time. Finding ways to clearly communicate with one another involves trial and error. It will take several years before a new congregational culture will take hold.
I have come to the conclusion that church mergers are a lot of hard work, but they can produce fruitful results. Church mergers shouldn’t be viewed as “last-ditch efforts” but as viable possibilities for congregations tired of the status quo. A merged congregation can generate new life and energy toward spreading the message of Jesus Christ.
“Successful” mergers only happen when everyone involved is willing to let go of their former identities and control and allow God to help reshape and form them into a new church. The new church may not be what people expected, but it will be the result of our faithfulness and commitment.
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NRSV)
I believe that people have to keep their eyes on Jesus. They have to remember it’s ultimately the Lord’s church and we must ask what’s best for the Kingdom and his mission. If we do this, we come to realize that it’s better to share and cooperate than do this on our own.
Leadership Development