Churches come in all forms of health; some are healthy and growing, others are maintaining the status quo, and some are declining. However, they all have one thing in common - they want to be fruitful, healthy and growing. One way this can happen is through a Vital Merger.
According to Rev. Dirk Elliott, a Vital Merger (c) is a merger of two or more churches that requires the merging churches to sell their buildings, pool their funds, move to a temporary location, find a new name, create a new mission and vision focused on the mission field, receive a trained planter and proceed as if they were a new church.
Characteristics of a Vital Merger:
- Sell all church buildings and relocate to a new location;
- Worship in a neutral location from the day of the official merger;
- Reset the new congregation's focus to be on the mission field and begin new ministries that will reach the new mission field (What will this new church offer that none of the former churches could?);
- Receive a pastor that has been assessed and trained as a church planter;
- Choose a name that is not part of the name of any of the merging churches.
Twelve Commitments for a Successful Vital Merger:
- To bathe the merger in prayer;
- To reach more people for Christ;
- To view itself as a new church;
- To unify all ministry around mission through a new vision;
- To imbed new DNA quickly through new values;
- To eliminate turf issues;
- To remove majority ruling post-merger;
- To receive a new church-planting pastor;
- To worship at a neutral location;
- To organize the new structure with a team-based, mission-driven format;
- To make room for guests;
- To provide adequate staffing for growth.
Steps for a Vital Merger:
- Contact your chief missional strategist (CMS) (district superintendent).
- Establish a prayer team with representatives from each church -- supporting the merger process in prayer and seeking God's direction as everyone moves forward.
- Contact the Office of Faith Community Formation (FCF) stating the desire for a merger to take place.
- Establish a date for an initial meeting with key leadership from all churches involved. The FCF staff person responsible for church planting should be invited to this initial meeting.
- Each church's Council or Board votes to be involved in the merger talks.
- Establish a Merger Team to discuss merger issues, with equal representation from each church. Divide the Merger Team into two sub-teams: an Administrative Team (to focus on the logistics and legalities of the merger) and a Vision Team (to focus on the mission, vision and programs of the future church).
- Complete a demographic study for the existing church communities and for potential relocation sites.
- Maintain regular communication from the Merger Team with all the churches involved in the merger talks. Communication is best through an agreed upon form from the Merger Team and a joint communique presented to each church by the representatives from their respective churches.
- Create numerous opportunities for both congregations to get to know each other. Organize joint worship experiences, celebration events, and opportunities unrelated to the discussion of the proposed merger.
- Alternate worshipping sites to become familiar with each other and to gain appreciation for the ministries and setting of each church.
- Conduct periodic "straw polls" to assure that each church is still on-board with the merger.
- Develop a "Merger Document" that outlines the details of the new church. The Merger Document should include:
a. Brief History and Future Intent
b. New Mission Statement
c. Definition of the Mission Field
d. New Name
e. Timeline and Process
f. Leadership Structure
h. Property, Buildings, Location, and Artifacts
i. Rationale for worshipping in a neutral location
j. Financial Assets
k. Resolution of Acceptance and Intent
i. Outlining who may vote
ii. Outlining the percentage of votes required for passage
iii. Defining number of churches needed for merger to be approved
l. Certified Resolution
- Set the bar for approval at two-thirds (66%) of those voting to insure that a larger percentage of the congregation is in support of the merger. (The Book of Discipline requires only a simple majority for passage however, a 2/3 majority is recommended.)
- Send a copy of each draft to the chief missional Strategist and the FCF staff person responsible for church planting.
- Hold "Town Hall" style meetings to inform the congregations of the progress of the merger document and answer questions concerning the future of the church.
- Forward the completed Merger Document to the CMS, the Bishop, and the FCF staff person responsible for church planting.
- Present the completed copy of the Merger Document to members of each church for study and discussion.
- Set a date for a Congregational Meeting or a Church Conference (in consultation with the CMS).
- Define who can vote. In a United Methodist Church/Charge Conference the following people have a vote:
a. Professing members (those who have taken membership as professions of faith or by transfer;
b. Retired and Diaconal Ministers who hold their charge conference membership at the church;
c. Affiliate Members (those who hold membership at another UM church, but have taken an affiliate membership at any of the churches considering merger).
For more information, follow the Vital Merger blog at https://dirk941.wordpress.com/ or purchase the book Vital Merger: A New Start Approach that Joins Church Families Together, by Dirk Elliott, 2017 (c) at https://www.cokesbury.com/9780974675992-Vital-Merger?refq=vital%20merger%20