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Corporate and Church Mergers. Any Difference?

January 17th, 2007 by Jason · 7 Comments

It’s certainly no secret that church splits in the Protestant world occur frequently and often; usually with more heat than light. I was struck last night, though, while listening to a small group discuss a possible merging of our church and another, that mergers can create just as much heat. Whether it’s fission or fusion, any sort of change seems to bring with it a great deal of energy and emotion. What struck me is our tendency, mine included, to approach the church merger business in the same way we do corporate mergers. Perhaps this is because the corporate merger is the dominant model we have for two organizations being combined. Or perhaps corporate values are so ingrained in America that it’s only natural to view the church as a sort of corporation (there are plenty of people who have lamented the pastor-as-CEO model). Either way, the problem with corporate and church mergers is that the values that drive each are, or at least should be, quite different.

Corporate mergers are driven by a utilitarian examination of assets gained versus risks incurred. Since corporations are finally answerable to their shareholders the final decision of whether or not to merge is based on the bottom line: will it be a profitable “takeover”? Just the fact that “takeover” is common jargon for a corporate merger is a sign that what happens is not the merging of two entities to form something new, but an “acquisition” that increases the power and wealth of the wealthier corporation. It’s the stuff of modern capitalism and it leads to all sorts of problems when explicitly or implicitly used as a model for church mergers.

This sort “corporate thinking” can be seen in the way a church merge is (often) discussed: we analyze the pros [read: assets gained], such as increased building space and new members who bring experience and diversity (a good thing, but not if members of Christ’s body are looked at as “things” to be gained or lost), versus the cons [read: risks incurred] such as changes in worship style and church decor.

What’s the alternative? Are there any values, or better yet, virtues that can guide a church in the discussion of whether or not to merge? Hospitality is the first that comes to mind. For both churches it can be a time to learn that difficult virtue of making room in our worship and at the communion table for the “other” or the “outsider.” Along those lines a merge may be a chance to practice hope that God can do something too little seen in the church: break down walls of hostility, thereby making one people where there were two. Or maybe it can be to practice obedience to Jesus’ prayer that the church may “be one” so that the “world may believe.”

Of course, we might ask why shouldn’t every church merge with the one down the block with great reasons like these? For starters, simply because humans have a heck of a time getting along and agreeing. Hopefully two churches considering a merger would be able to discern if the virtues mentioned above had any chance of coming to fruition if the churches were to come together. Additionally, there are theological differences that come into play—if two churches hold different core beliefs it’s unlikely the two will be able to truly “merge.” More likely, one will dominate and you’ll end up with a “takeover.” And if there’s any image more disturbing than the fractured body of Christ it’s that of the stronger members of Christ’s body consuming the weaker members.

Tags: theology

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 isaac // Jan 18, 2007 at 7:38 am

    Jason, that last line is right on the money for this week’s lectionary reading: I Cor. 12:21-31. “Those parts parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.” It’s the preferential option for the weak. It sounds like Paul thinks churches should give the weakest voice the highest seat at the table. I wonder what that would do for your church as ya’ll think about a merger? Maybe it means that there should be a conversation about who’s the weakest in your midst. I don’t know. I’d be interested to hear more as the conversation develops.

  • 2 e cho // Feb 5, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    good questions…

    we’re doing our best to be very mindful of their congregation – the individuals, their stories, legacies, the elderly, etc.

    especially now that they voted yesterday to merge and join quest.

    peace out.

  • 3 Scott // Dec 26, 2007 at 10:02 am

    I am interested in how it is working out. I am currently in the midst of exploring a merger with another local church, and would love feedback from someone who has been there.

  • 4 Rodney // Jan 15, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    I want to talk to someone about small church issues and the possibilities of a merger or better a situation that may mean inheriting a ministry and its property.

  • 5 Pastor Ken Smith // Jan 24, 2008 at 6:54 am

    I am also in the process of merging with a local church. It is a great oppertunity for churches to reach and do more for the Kingdom. This is what God is wants. A coming together for a greater cause so that He can pour out a great revival in this nation especially the Northeast. During the process of conducting the merge, we are creating a journal to share with others who are considering church merger. This document will be made public soon.

  • 6 Brett // Aug 13, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    I think churches merging when they share common goals and interests are great, and pleasing to God. But is “all unity” really the best for the Christian church as a whole? ( I’ve really come to doubt it.

  • 7 Richard Laribee // Nov 22, 2008 at 7:17 am

    It’s one thing to speculate and guess. It’s another thing to learn what really happens in the real world that God has placed us in to serve and to make disciples for Jesus.

    Fact: A tiny minority of church mergers have led to renewal, spiritual growth, creativity, enhanced ministry, and growth.

    Fact: The great majority of church mergers are disasters. 5 years after the merger, most are weaker spiritually and numerically. The congregations are most often disillusioned, burned out, divided, and bitter. Pastors and staff have left, bruised and beaten.

    What makes the difference? You owe it to yourself to abandon your speculations and guesses and idealism, and to do the long, tough, complex preparation and homework. When I put together a successful merger 25 years ago, there weren’t the many ministry organizations, professionals, and authors dealing with church merger that there is today. Don’t shoot yourselves in the foot by experimenting… do engage in the research, reading, and learning that’s is now available from many sources.

    Grace and peace,