It was church growth and then the megachurch movement.
Now its church plants, multiple sites, and networks.
Soon it will be multiple churches merging.
At least that is my personal guess.
The landscape is changing and as churches struggle to adapt they will be forced to pursue options for survival. A merge will be in many respects the next logical step.
Denominational and historical ties for church involvement are waning. No longer do most people look for a church based on the specific branch of Protestantism and with the increasing mobility of society they lack any sort of family ties to a local church. In some ways this is the consumer mindset seeping into church that has been a bane for some time, but it is also a matter of people finding vibrant churches. This is not an indictment of the small local church, but there is something to be said for healthy churches that are growing in every sense of the word and conversely those churches that are in decline.
So what would a church merge look like?
- A growing church without a facility being invited to use that of a declining church
- Multiple churches meeting in the same physical space at different times
- Declining communities combining to pool resources, staff, and influence
- Combining efforts for specific ministry initiatives. Why have two VBS programs when you can one great one?
All of this will of course rise and fall on leadership. It will be the leaders who have to set the tone and work through the details and it will be on the leaders to navigate a merge with humility. Because the term “merge” is the term that will be used, but it isn’t completely accurate.
When one church joins another, it isn’t a merge, it is a hostile takeover. For a true merge to occur one leadership culture must step back allowing the other to assert itself as primary. This will be the sticking point for declining churches who will struggle to do this well. Declining churches can of course turn things around, but a merge can be the manifestation of that change.
Like everything with the local church it comes back to leadership. Not just leaders who understand every principle and have read every book, but the leaders who understand they must become humble followers first and that their leadership should reflect that.