Real Life Scenarios of #ChurchRevitalization: Merging and Multisite
Got to sit down last week with leaders from First Baptist Church West Monroe & The Way Church in Denham Springs & talk about their successful Church Revitalization endeavors over the last few years.
Fairbanks Baptist Church in Sterlington, LA, had a history of decline & was struggling to keep systems running in the life of their church. They reached out to First West & First West accepted the challenge of helping them revi through merging. Fairbanks Baptist became First West Fairbanks. A Campus Pastor was chosen to restart the work. Today, 250+ worship where 3 years ago there were 20.
Calvary Baptist Church in Denham Springs, LA, had a history of decline & was struggling to keep systems running in the life of their church. The Way Church was in their third year as a church plant & had baptized over 100 in three years by successfully reaching unchurched young adults in the same community. However, the Way Church was paying very high rent & began looking for other facility options. Their Associational Director of Missions connected Calvary & the Way & they began exploring the possibilities of merging. Calvary officially closed its doors in the Fall of 2014 & the Way took over the property & today 300+ are worshipping each Sunday, where last year there were only 20.
As I listened to First West (Pastor Michael Wood, Global Mission Pastor Mark Fenn, & Campus Pastor Chad Merrell) & the Way (Scott Cheatham) tell their respective stories, I wrote down 9 Keys to a Successful Church Revi Transition that includes Merging & Multisite:
1) Healthy Church Life & Multiplication Happening. Both First West & The Way were growing, multiplying leaders & groups. Healthy systems were in place & functioning at both churches.
2) Healthy Relational Networking Among Churches in the Community. Both First West & The Way are involved in their local Associations & relationships laid a foundation for the development of merger talks. The Way Church had even began hosting a quarterly community worship experience where they first met the pastor of Calvary & conversations were initiated.
3) Realization of Need by Declining Congregation. Both Fairbanks Baptist & Calvary Baptist had reached a point where they were willing to admit their need of help from the outside. For most congregations this will probably come in the form of financial struggles. Many will be faced with a loss of pastoral leadership. But something happens to initiate the idea that help is needed.
4) A Healthy Mediator. In both scenarios a healthy mediator began the conversation of merging. For Fairbanks, a Deacon at First West was good friends with some of their leaders & they ask him if First West would be willing to help. For Calvary & the Way, David Brown, the Director of Missions in the area served as a healthy mediator beginning & walking through the details with the congregations.
5) Everybody Seeking God’s Will & the Good of the Community. There had to be a declaration by all parties that we’re not seeking our own will, but God’s & the good of the lost community around us.
6) Defining Terms. There had to be a moment where hard realities were laid out & hard decisions made. In these scenarios, the older congregations had to come to understand that nothing would stay the same & it was time for their congregations to die that something new may be birthed for the good of the Kingdom.
7) Accepting Responsibility. These transitions WILL NOT be easy or cheap. Both First West & the Way said you can expect it to be costly. Broken systems can create some messy situations with taxes & debt & building needs. Jim Tomberlin with Multisite Solutions says you can expect to pay about $250,000. Both First West & The Way spent that in the transition period.
8) The Right People at the Right Time. Everything rises & falls on leadership. The Way Church was blessed to have Scott Cheatham, who had a business background & knew the right steps to take to raise money, get the property legal, & assure the Calvary faithful few that their church would be in good hands. First West also had a businessman, Chad Merrell, who knew how to build great relationships & solve problems. These were the right people at the right time.
9) Keep the Good, Retire the Bad. Fairbanks Baptist had 70+ kids coming on Wednesday night for a Kids program. Chad Merrell made the healthy decision to keep that ministry going. At the same time, they held services off campus at the High School for a season, to increase their capacity for attendance & build relationships with the community. Moving back to the campus of Fairbanks meant they moved back into the gym, because the worship center was too small.
Merging & Multisite is one healthy scenario for churches in need of revitalization. These 9 characteristics of a healthy transition may help guide you through a process with a partnering church.
What would you add or take away from this list?