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Some things to think about…

As the Merger Exploration Team continues its work, this may be a good time to offer some wisdom gleaned from the experiences of other INUMC churches that recently completed this process. (Thanks to Rev. Lore Blinn Gibson, Conference Superintendent for the Northwest District, for the core of this reflection, which I have adapted to be more relevant to our context.) Please read all of the Scriptures referenced below.

Merger can be a win in four ways:

  1. Struggling churches win as they get a fresh start in living out God’s purpose for their church with renewed energy and momentum.

  2. The Body of Christ wins because the corporate witness of the local church is stronger and better able to make disciples.

  3. The community wins because they can be reached by and better served when the local church is stronger and more vibrant.

  4. The Kingdom of God wins through advancement and growth of vital, life-giving congregations.

Mergers are not a strategy for maintaining the status quo.

  1. We might assume 1 + 1 = 2, but that is not a net gain and won’t produce a vibrant church. One and one are two whether separate or together unless we build something greater than the sum of the parts. We are aiming for 1 + 1 > 2.

  2. Focusing on survival is essentially a guarantee that we won’t survive, and it is not being faithful either. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it.” Matthew 16:25.

  3. Focusing on ‘our church’ is not going to invite new people into relationship with Christ, even though, once we follow Christ, we will love our church. The church is God’s, the church is the Body of Christ. We are stewards of the church. Remember the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the “wicked” slave who buried the master’s money for fear of losing it. Being faithful means risking what we have for the sake of the Kingdom rather than preserving what we have for fear of losing it.

Unhelpful motives for merging:

  1. Preservation: more hope in preserving the past than developing a new future.

  2. Denial: using this exploration and/or merger to avoid addressing the deep problems that led us into this situation.

  3. Financial motivation: seeking to preserve endowments/foundations without a clear missional reason for those invested funds that advances the Kingdom of God.

  4. Keeping our building: refusing to embrace that the Kingdom of God is not tied to any property. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money,” or a building! (Matthew 6:24) If you are unwilling to let go of “your” building, you may be like the rich young ruler who would not sell his possessions in order to have treasure in heaven. He went away, sad. (Matthew 19:16-30).

Stages of the process:

  1. Exploration determines if merger is possible and wise. Exploration imagines what can be done together that cannot even be considered in the current situation.

  2. Negotiation asks “what if” questions to explore scenarios and discern what difficulties must be overcome. Negotiation names the non-negotiables: the things that must be preserved going forward such as the Preschool and Food Pantry. This is where we currently are in the process.

  3. Implementation asks each church to make internal decisions about visions and priorities. This is not yet a vote on merging. It is determining one vision from several that are possible. If a vision isn’t clear, we are not yet ready to attempt a vote on merging.

  4. Consolidation is a time of “letting go” of the past and “grabbing hold” of the future. While honoring the past, we dishonor our heritage if we hold more tightly to it than to a vibrant and faithful future.

  5. Integration acknowledges the growing pains as a new church forms: “forming, storming, norming, and transforming.” It will be a time of change, pain, loss, conflict, new relationships, and great joy. Real community is only built through working through conflicts!

Possible outcomes:

  1. We form a new church out of the gifts and graces of our two existing churches.

  2. We decide to remain separate but continue to be in mission and ministry together much more closely than before.

  3. We utilize existing facilities in new ways that can financially sustain the facilities.

  4. We let go of one facility and form a new church in the other (probably with significant remodeling).

  5. We let go of both facilities and build or purchase something new. This has the advantage of creating a custom-made facility designed for future ministry. Although selling two properties at the same time would be difficult, this could be accomplished in stages.

  6. Continue as we have, as two separate churches, but with a renewed vigor to do things in a new way.

  7. Continue as we are and continue separately down paths of decline.

The Merger Exploration Team has begun to understand our task in new terms. We realize that this process is not so much a merging of two churches as it is creating a completely new church born out of our two existing churches. For myself, I am no longer asking “where will the new church be” but rather “who will we be” as we become a new faith community.

I hope that this clarifies some things, and I pray that these reflections will inspire hope and a vision for a faithful and exciting future.

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