When planting a church, momentum is critical. Often it requires the investment of significant resources (time, energy, people, prayer, service, etc.) to create the momentum necessary to effectively start a new church. Many church starts fail because they never reach the point where momentum carries them forward. Simply stated: without forward motion church planting efforts are not sustainable.
In the start-up phase, two church plants in a community may consider merging together – combining efforts/resources to gain the required momentum to succeed. Unfortunately this doesn’t work. Merging church plants together is not an effective strategy to reach sustainability. Dr. Steve Ogne, co-author of The Church Planter’s Toolkit and Transformissional Coaching, observes, “In 20 years and 500 churches, I’ve never seen a church plant merger work.”
Here are 5 Reasons Church Plants Should Not Merge:
1. Leadership Chaos
- Often the assumption when church plants merge is that the lead planters will become co-pastors, equally sharing responsibility and leadership for the new church. While this sounds like a great evidence of unity – it doesn’t work. It cannot work. You cannot have two heads. A church cannot function with two command centers. Ultimately, one of the planters must submit to the other. Otherwise, there will be continual conflict and disharmony. Eventually this continued conflict can lead to jealousy, enmity, and bitterness.
- Additionally, the church planting team members will naturally follow the stronger leader. No matter how clearly roles are defined, delineated and explained, two leaders will come to disagree and create disunity in the church plant. Eventually, the resulting chaos will lead the co-leaders to part ways (often abandoning God-honoring attitudes and actions).
2. DNA Mismatch
- Each church plant has its own unique DNA – the values, behaviors, commitments, beliefs and stories that bind the members together. Even at an initial stage of development, the DNA is evident and unlikely to change. When two church plants merge together it is likely that there will be DNA mismatch.
- Regardless of attempts to discuss core values, examine shared beliefs and communicated commitments and stores, agenda disharmony emerges. In fact, this happens within every church planting team at some point, so it is obviously going to happen when church plants merge.
- Coupled with differing expectations that are often unspoken and unmet, the resulting conflicts and/or disappointment pushes people apart rather than pulling them together. The anticipated gain in momentum is lost because of DNA mismatch.
3. Weakest Link
- Water flows down to the lowest level, and in a church plant merger, leadership also sinks down to the lowest level. The weaker leader will hold back the stronger leader. Whether this is compounded by insecurity, jealousy, or the incompetency of the weaker leader, the church plant will not advance forward to the level of the strongest leader. The weakest leader will potentially stall momentum.
4. Awkward Dancing
- Confident dancers excel! Yet tentative dancers are difficult to watch. Ogne observes, “Leaders spend so much time doing the dance and trying not to step on someone’s toes that nobody leads. When someone starts to lead, they get shot for leading.”
- Mergers create impossible situations for two leaders to succeed together in a co-leadership role. Unless one of the original lead planters agrees to take a “back seat” and both allows and supports the other planter to occupy the “driver’s seat,” this awkward dancing scenario will result in the departure of one of the co-leaders. Power plays can be avoided by rejecting any merger considerations when they are first introduced.
5. Diminished Size
- It has happened over and over again. Two churches merge together to gain momentum and the end result is a smaller church plant. While initial increases may be evident, over time the merger somehow dissatisfies those who once believed it was the best idea and they quietly move on. The net gain is often negative. This frequently happens when existing churches merge, and it also happens when church plants merge.
A church planter that I was coaching believed God was leading him to merge together with another church plant in his town. He was surprised to discover that several of his key members started leaving after a few months. The combined momentum that he hoped to gain in merging was jeopardized by agenda issues and value conflicts. His attention shifted from advancing forward to addressing the concerns of those who departed. This thwarted momentum and progress.
When planting Lake Hills Church, it was suggested that we merge with another church plant that had lost its pastor. We were just initiating some momentum forward, while the other plant had completely stalled. While I’m sure I could have helped them by merging together, my attention would have been diverted to provide care and healing for the hurting congregation. I realized that his was not what God had called me to do. I chose to pursue God’s calling on my life.
When church plants merge –1. Leadership chaos is soon evident.2. DNA mismatch causes conflict.3. The weakest leader restricts forward motion.4. The awkward dancing is embarrassing.5. Size is diminished and momentum stalls. What other options are better than merging?
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