Church Collaboration

 How Churches Can Work Together for Mission

4. Blending by Restart Merger

In a rebirth or restart merger the blending churches intentionally die in order to start a new congregation with a new up-to-date name, a renewed sense of mission, and a new public identify. Reborn congregations usually carry on some of the cherished traditions of their predecessors and they provide a place of fellowship and caring for their long term members.  Their emphasis, however, is on a fresh start that will reach and serve people in the community in a renewed ministry. Some of the marks of a Rebirth merger include:

·         A vision to engage with the community

·         An up-to-date name, graphics and signage to present a fresh face to the community

·         Worship that appeals to neighbors and meaningful to everyone

·         A frank understanding of the habits and customs of the previous churches that kept them stuck

·         A new or remodeled facility

Case Study:  Living Spirit United Methodist in Minneapolis

Ashbury and Oakland Avenue United Methodist Churches were just over a mile apart in south Minneapolis but each had a unique identity. Ashbury was a traditional mostly white Methodist church with strong fellowship and a commitment to social justice. Oakland Avenue was located in the first neighborhood in south Minneapolis to integrate and Oakland Avenue became one of the rare protestant churches that was genuinely multiracial. By 2005, however, both churches were facing financial struggles, building maintenance issues, and a slow loss of members. Living Spirit Youth 2020

Living Spirit United Methodist Church

Over the years the congregations shared programs like confirmation and VBS, and in 2008 they started meeting and occasionally worshiping together. This led naturally to conversations about merger, but with  skepticism because of the differences in identity. Oakland Avenue worked hard to be multiracial and didn’t want that effort diluted by a merger. After heartfelt and honest meetings the congregations agreed on a mutual commitment to being multiracial and to social justice. In 2010 they merged, intentionally forming a new congregation, Living Spirit, out of the strengths of both churches. The new congregation moved into one of the buildings and sold the other. Since then their commitment has born fruit in terms of new people, multiracial membership and community engagement for social justice.

Dave Raymond of ChurchFuture was a co-consultant to Asbury and Oakland as they put together this restart.

Case Study:  New Hope Lutheran in El Paso, Texas New Hope El Paso Texas

In August of 1999 St. John's and Good Shepherd Lutheran Churches in El Paso dissolved in order to give birth to New Hope Lutheran. New Hope used the proceeds from the sale of one predecessor church to build a new sanctuary at the other site. At the same time the church experienced pastoral turnover. In 2000 average attendance was 84, a drop from the combined attendance before consolidation. After that attendance grew  by 50% while population grew by 2.5% in New Hope's zip code. Ten of the 36 people who joined new Hope in 2007 were previously unchurched.

Articles about Two Recent Consolidations Coached by Dave Raymond

Harbor of Grace in Muskegon, Michigan

Vista Lutheran Church in St. Louis Park, Minnesota

Track Record of Rebirth Mergers

The chart on the Continuation Merger page shows that Rebirth Mergers tend to have a good track record, especially when compared to the status of the congregations just before merger.

Why is this? An intentional rebirth and transformation motivates the congregation to rethink and reinvent its ministry to be more responsive to the needs of the community. Through rebirth the churches present a new name and a new image to their neighbors. The transformed church is often able to build or remodel a building that is more functional, inviting, and environmentally friendly. The new church no longer has to operate on the principle that "we've always done it this way". This reinvention can change the direction of the church's life cycle from decline to growth.


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