Lessons from the Church Merger (1)

Many Chinese Christians in the Bay Area know that my church is about to merge with a nearby church. The whole thing started because their pastor is about to retire, and since our two churches are both Cantonese-speaking churches and we’re within 2 miles of each other, it’s a natural next step to do a church merge. Thus began merger talks since about 9 months ago. It has been a long process, and we will finally be meeting as a new church in April 2009. I would like to share about the major lessons learned during this process. First of all, let me share about what church merger is NOT:

1. Church Merge is not just about “having more people”

When some people first heard about the church merge, their first thought was: “Is the sanctuary big enough to hold the extra people?” or “Is the parking lot big enough to hold the extra cars?” Granted, these are valid concerns. But church merge is much more than having more people.

I think in many ways church merge is like two groups of people who have been raised under different backgrounds, speaking different languages, eating different foods, having different goals in life, and then they come together to try to live under the same roof.

So stating things like “It’s great we are a bigger church now” or expressing paltry concerns like “Do we have enough food for lunch?” would tend to mask the real issues.

2. Dating and Marriage Analogies are Inadequate

At the start of the process, people like to use dating and marriage analogies to talk about the merger, and some leaders even use metaphors in dating and marriage to decide how to guide the merger process along. For example, they would say, “Now we’re dating and getting to know each other!” So they organize get-together meetings for people to “see each other” and know each other’s names and play some games and maybe pray for each other. And then they wonder “We’ve done some dating — when do we get engaged?”

But church merger is not dating. Church unity is not an exercise in romance.

While I agree that Christians need to focus on what they have in common, I think church merger is the time when you need to lay out on the table what your most bitter differences are (in terms of tradition, culture, doctrinal understanding, ministry philosophies, etc.), and instead of brushing them off by saying “we agree to disagree,” face them dead on. Think about worst case scenarios when people really disagree and what to do about it.

I believe that real unity is not achieved by going on a blind date which ignores differences, but by deliberately articulating the differences and then re-positioning them as advantages of diversity in community.

Lessons from the Church Merger (1)
Lessons from the Church Merger (2)
Lessons from the Church Merger (3)

4 thoughts on “Lessons from the Church Merger (1)

  1. Three Chinese churches in Philadelphia has also gone through this not very long ago.Unification is not an easy thing to do, but many pastoral positions are vacant for years in North America.

  2. We have just started a church merger.  I read your 3 posts with great interest and love your insights.  Did your two churches ever develop and present a merger proposal document?  Would you be willing to share that document?  If so, please email me at LMarasco@shaw.ca

    Thanks so much

    Linda Marasco, Zion Lutheran Church, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada

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