Option 3: Blending by Continuation Merger
How does this site define Church Mergers?
A merger occurs when two or more congregations legally join together as one. This site uses the term "Continuation Merger" when the merged congregation continues most of the traditions, programs, and approach of the predecessor churches. Some call this a "survival" merger. In a "Rebirth Merger" two or more churches deliberately close so they can form a new blended congregation with a fresh identity and renewed approach to ministry. An "Absorption Merger" is when a smaller church joins with a larger thriving church. The differences between the three variations may seem subtle, but the variations have distinctly different track records, as shown below.
Inspiring Case Study: St. Paul-Reformation, St. Paul, MNSt. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church is the product of three continuation mergers involving four predecessor churches. It started in 1883 as Memorial Lutheran Church, which merged three times and eventually became St. Paul-Reformation in 1977. Today it is a thriving center city congregation. Its attendance has almost doubled in the past decade in a community with no population growth. To learn more check out this web site:
Track Record of Church Mergers
There is a common saying that the result of a church merger is "1 + 1 = 1". The reality is more complex. Some merged churches end up closing, or 1 + 1 = 0. Many find themselves in slow decline, just like many unmerged churches. Others thrive and end up greater than the sum of their initial parts.
The success rate of blended congregations has to be evaluated in the context of all congregations. Since a majority of mainline churches are now declining it should not be surprising when blended congregations decline as well. The evaluation also has to keep in mind the status of the churches before merger or consolidation. The vast majority of the churches that decide to blend were struggling at the time of the decision. One has to ask, what would be the status of the processor churches if they hadn't combined?
A Continuation Merger usually puts congregations in a stronger position and it often forestalls closing, but it doesn't necessarily change the pattern of decline. See "The Life Cycle of Congregations" on the Rebirth Merger page.
The charts below show that Rebirth Mergers have a stronger track record than Continuation Mergers and that Absorption Mergers have the strongest record of the three. The charts are based on a 66-church sample of the almost 250 mergers and consolidations in the ELCA since in was formed in 1988: