Church Collaboration

 How Churches Can Work Together for Mission

Option 6:  Multi-Site or Multi-Campus Merger

Sometimes a church that finds itself stuck and no longer attracting new people will join with a strong growing church to become a campus of the lead church. These multi-site or multi-campus mergers work especially well when the joining church has a strategic location and functional facility. Typically the lead church and joining campus are far enough apart to serve unique areas but close enough that staff members can move between campuses easily. The leadership and resources of the lead church bring growth and vitality to the new campus. Most of these mergers have occurred in evangelical settings but they are starting to happen with mainline churches. The key is to combine the strengths of the joining church with the leadership and vision of the lead church.

Multi-Site Case Studies

In January, 2014 Christ the King and Cross of Life Lutheran Churches voted to merge into one congregation with two campuses. The churches are about 6 miles apart in Brookfield, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. The 2013 merger prospectus states the objective:

“As Christ’s church we exist to grow in faith through our mission areas, Worship, Learn, Serve, and Invite. The Christ the King /Cross of Life collaboration facilitates this mission by expanding opportunities and activity in each of the four tenets, strengthening both congregations, as well as the ELCA presence in our community”

The merged church is now Unity Lutheran Church. The main campus is the former Cross of Life facility. The former Cross of Life is now the Cross of Life campus of Unity Lutheran Church. The four pastors and 11 staff members serve both campuses. In her 2019 annual report one of the pastors wrote, “Sometimes, I wish we could have bottled the openness to listen and learn about one another, the respect people showed, and the boldness in which people had in seeing that God was calling us to a new thing. Becoming one doesn’t mean that we have forgotten the history or the memories created. It doesn’t mean that we now think exactly the same way, but it means that we claim what unites us…Christ!”

In 2015 Embrace, a United Methodist Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota was named as the 10th fastest growing church in America. St. Croix Valley UMC in Lakeland, MN at the eastern edge of Minnesota, had become older and smaller. At the suggestion of the UMC bishop St. Croix Valley voted to become the St. Croix campus of Embrace. Embrace St. Croix attracted over 400 people when it opened in November, 2015. It now has two campus pastors and live streams sermons from Sioux Falls.

There is an inspiring twist on the two campus concept In Lincoln, Nebraska.  Prince of Peace Lutheran Church was stuck. While it still functioning its 80 active members were aging and its options were limited. On the other side of town Sheridan Lutheran Church was bursting at the seams with 1,500 at worship. In July, 2008 the two congregations merged. They sold the Prince of Peace building and used the proceeds to  form a new satellite congregation, Spirit of Hope, in a more promising location. Since then Spirit of Hope grew strong enough to becomes an independent ELCA congregation.

Track Record of Mainline Multi-Site Mergers

The track record with Evangelical Multi-Site mergers is very strong. The book, Better Together Making Church Mergers Work by Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird, documents this movement. We’ve identified around  20 such mergers in mainline churches, most of which are fairly recent. There isn’t enough data to draw concrete conclusions but the early indications show a high degree of success. The key is to develop a merger agreement that respects and honors the joining church while clearly giving the lead church the mandate it needs to make the changes necessary for success. The process, therefore, depends on trust building between the churches.


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