Presentation on theme: " The average church in America has less than one hundred in worship. Churches with less than 50 people in worship make up 40% of all churches in America."— Presentation transcript:
The average church in America has less than one hundred in worship. Churches with less than 50 people in worship make up 40% of all churches in America. The average age of the membership within these churches with fewer than 50 people in worship is over 65. Add to that less than 2% of these churches are growing and you have a formula for a major disaster over the next fifteen years for 40% of all the churches in America.
According to Leadership Network research, two percent of U.S. Protestant churches have been part of a merger in the last two years. Another eight percent say they will probably merge in the next two years. Those two groups represent 30,000 churches. Similar trends are among churches in Canada, Europe, Australia and other places where churches have been long established.
There are three reasons why church mergers are on the rise. No doubt, the multisite strategy has contributed to this trend with one out of three multisite campuses being the result of a church merger, but it goes beyond just multi- siting.
The economic recession had forced a lot of churches to reassess their long-term viability. Under prosperous times many churches were propped up by artificial life- support which no longer exists for many of them. More significantly, other churches are seeing the synergistic benefits of joining with like-minded churches and a similar mission for greater Kingdom impact. Yet caution must be exercised if you are a church needing to be embraced by another.
The church landscape is changing in North America as predatory practices which were once unthinkable are becoming common practice. Recently I learned of large denominational groups practicing what is being called "Steeple Jacking," which means "church stealing.” Another less flattering term that is becoming more prevalent today is the term “Hostile Take-over.”
Now is not the time for FEAR! It is sad that during a time in America when the American Church needs help in the area of church revitalization and renewal that such negative practices are scaring churches and church leaders away from even considering church revitalization and renewal. I am not speaking of mergers right now! Let me say that some mergers work! Some do not!
The terms are many in the church revitalization area of restarting or repotting! Some are positive and some are negative. Let’s look at both groups:
The Negative Terms in Restarting: Steeple Jacking – "Steeple Jacking," which means "church stealing.” It was Thom Schultz who first coined this phrase in his periodic blog when on August 29, 2012 he posted his views about why such practices were being considered by leaders of large churches and denominations.
Predictably, such predatory overtures are not received warmly. They run the risk of damaging the cause of Christ in the community, positioning Christians as those who seek to euthanize the old in order to provide a cheap place for the young. Now, it is true many churches are plateaued, declining, or dying. It is true many will be unable to support their facilities. And it is true other churches in the same communities could make good use of vacant or underused church properties according to Schultz.
It is not surprising that leaders of once large congregations face the painful picture of a shrinking number of congregants and see a sea of empty seats dormant that were once overflowing with souls hungry for the gospel message of salvation.
Twenty’s of thousands of churches today are declining to the point of unviability. Within our own denomination the rate of plateau and decline sits somewhere between 80% and 92.2 % depending on who is reporting the state of affairs. Many of these churches if they do not receive help in church revitalization will be forced to close their doors in the near future. The best strategy in my view is the restart strategy over the Takeover strategy.
Where did this Strategy originate? A new ministry strategy has been proposed by some emerging younger churches to actively consider Steeple Jacking as a viable strategy tool.
Where did this Strategy originate? It has been reported by Thom Schultz that there are actually some national ministry organizations which publically advise local pastors to target declining congregations and overtake their properties. It is like a “churchified foreclosure and eviction process” he says as the ambitious church leaders attempt to acquire buildings at little or no cost.
Here is why there are dangers in this strategy as a church revitalization practice. Steeple Jacking becomes an unnecessarily divisive and destructive exercise. Most of us in the field of church revitalization have seen young leaders of younger churches communicate in less than loving ways with a pastor of a struggling church. These young leaders boast of their attendance numbers and tout their plans to establish churches that meet in many places all over the landscape.
These young leaders often attempt to intimidate the older declining church into surrendering their keys to the church and property or “face the possibility of closure.” Some even go so far as to encourage members of small groups to join a church, for a time, in significant numbers so that they can bring before the business floor the idea of allowing their former church to take them over. When that happens it is called a “Hostile Takeover!”
The Negative Terms in Restarting: Hostile Takeovers – Hostile takeovers are those situations when a weak church is aggressively swallowed by a larger church. This is usually done by pressure either from a new wave of church members within the declining church or by much larger churches which seek to expand their ministry signature.
Those churches which seem to be more susceptible are often language and ethnic churches where second generation English speaking members make up a large portion of the congregation. As a larger church desires a broader appearance of multiculturalism and desires to merge these ministries into their own footprint, often it is for the desire to help the larger church appear more in line with the transformation of community.
How Takeovers Happen Takeovers happen in different ways in different locations: Sometimes, as one pastor relates, they begin slowly and move along subtly. For example, a lay leader with a strong personality comes into the church and starts sowing seeds of discord. He may begin to hold private meetings to convince individuals that the truth is not being proclaimed in that church.
How Takeovers Happen He gives liberally and offers to serve. People within the church begin to trust him. He becomes a Sunday School teacher, a deacon, and chairman of various key committees. He may quietly assemble followers.
How Takeovers Happen Other new members may join the church with the same hidden agenda to align with him. Some church members may see through this scheme early-on, but others will not believe them and will criticize them, even as he and his group begin to sow discontent and manipulate the nomination and election processes for future church positions.
How Takeovers Happen Then the pastor leaves to go to another church, and the group of crusaders begins to manipulate the replacement process and to stack the pastor search committee with people who will vote to bring in a like-minded pastor. Many Para-Church groups have taken over churches this way and redirected former missions monies to their individual causes.
How Takeovers Happen New members, often bearing a hidden agenda, join the church and quickly voice their support of the new pastor’s viewpoint, while helping him to intimidate people who raise any objection. Often they are told to leave the church or stay home if they disagree. Conspirators call committee meetings and fail to invite those who might disagree.
How Takeovers Happen The End Result: The disgusted and disillusioned members begin to leave the church, “and new ones come in as fast as the older ones leave,” said one former member of a hostilely taken-over church.
The Positive Terms in Restarting: Multisite – Is when a church embraces in a mutually inclusive way another church and they begin to journey together with a new strategy of one church in two locations or more. Multi-ethnic – Is a church that embraces the changing community around the location and begins to be more inclusive to multiple language groups either by new ministries or by utilizing a “Church Within A Church” strategy.
The Positive Terms in Restarting: Adoptions – Sometimes a small weaker church needs to be embraced by a larger one to keep it alive. When that happens a church might formerly seek to adopt the church as one of its ministries while seeking to re-strengthen it and to eventually release it for service, once it again returns to be self- supporting, self-sustaining, and self-propagating.
The Positive Terms in Restarting: Church Merger – While this is often a strategy utilized by larger churches, it has positive as well as negative implications. The negative implications have already been considered. The positive impact is when a strong church merges with a weaker church in order to strengthen the work. Remember though that 150 + 75 seldom equals 225! In reality it looks more like 170.
The Positive Terms in Restarting: Watchcare – Is when a struggling church asks another church for help and it enters into a covenant relationship where for a time the weaker church is embraced by the stronger one in order to help it regain its footing. Sometimes the weaker church is released in about three years fully able to continue doing ministry. Other times it is released by the stronger church because it has become a burden to the stronger church and two churches trying to grow from a single budget could cause both to decline.
What others have said about Church Mergers Check out the Blog
Jason Glen on March 21, 2011 @ 7:36 PM “I'm all for mergers if it will draw smaller communities together without loosing the opportunity for mutual intimacy among the new formed body of believers. However, if the churches are merging simply to form a "mega" church, I believe that this would be heading in the wrong ecclesiastical direction.”
By Steve Stowe on March 21, 2011 @ 8:51 PM This is interesting to me as I am in a church that is in the merging process at the moment. We aren't merging to form a MEGA, but are merging to better be able to reach our communities. Building costs are a partial reason, but not the entirety as the two lead pastors visions line up with each other.
By Ernie McCoulskey on March 22, 2011 @10:11 AM We have had a couple of mergers in our association, but without measurable success. In both cases the two churches that merged had been in decline and were seeking support and survival. What seemed to happen was that key leaders for one church or both felt the merger gave them an opportunity with pull back in leadership and the results were not positive. Those saints had worked so hard for years to "keep the church alive" they were ready for a break.
Once in a while, when done correctly, church mergers actually prosper and advance for the sake of the Kingdom. Both the overtaking (stronger) and the undertaking (weaker) congregations find ways to meet their challenges and simultaneously serve their communities and bring honor to the Lord. They discover ways to develop win-win solutions. Both churches then see their former years of faithfulness, hard work and sacrifice developing into something valuable and durable.
Suggestions for those churches which are struggling:
Be open to the possibility that God may have new purposes for the faithful work and investment you’ve made over the years. Involve the entire congregation in celebrating the blessings of the past, and opening hearts to what God may do in the future. Proactively reach out to other churches to explore how you might work together to serve your community.
Suggestions for the stronger church which needs additional space:
Enter this prospect with a tremendous amount of prayer asking God His desires in this opportunity. Humbly act in the way that if you were on the other side you would want another to treat you and your church. Be sensitive to the currents around that are both positive and negative.
Understand and appreciate the deep pain experienced by those in dying churches. Do not allow the opportunity to become the work of a predatory few. Meet personally and informally with leaders from the struggling church.
Ask questions. Ask about the challenges the struggling church faces. Ask how you might help the struggling church. Rather than talking takeover, talk first about less threatening options, such as renting space or sharing ministry initiatives.
Make reasonable offers that reflect current market conditions if you are leasing or buying. The selling congregation may have good plans to invest the proceeds in other God-honoring ministries that resonate with their mission such as the planting of a new church.
The Perils of Steeple Jacking P – Places pressure on weaker church to succumb to larger churches desires. E – Endangers the autonomy of individual churches. R – Raises the distrust weaker church participants have towards outsiders. I – Increases the danger of organized groups developing a concerted strategy for stealing smaller churches. L – Limits God from a miracle of reinvention. S – Sends the message that the only way out for smaller churches is a merger.