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A Senior Pastor Transition – Church Merger Success Story

In the past six months, the most frequently asked question that I have received involves senior pastor transitions. While we do not recruit pastors, we do work with churches who wish to merger with another when senior pastor transitions lead to this issue.

Many healthy churches are led by founders who have either started a church, or grown a church, into a force within a community. The founding Pastor then wants to retire but does not have someone ready to take over. Thereafter, the founding Pastor or leadership team look for candidates to recruit but find no one available, then turn to recruiters and find no candidate that fits their culture.

While this can be frustrating, it does not resolve of the issue of transitioning the senior Pastor. The next available option may be merging the healthy church of a senior pastor who wishes to transition to retirement, with an emerging church lead by a dynamic pastor who needs additional space to grow. We have seen both success and failure when this occurs.

Merging is not an easy task. It requires one church – typically the one with large real estate and financial assets – to cede control to an emerging church. When done correctly, merging may be the best available option to resolve the senior pastor transition issue.

Recently, the Colorado Springs Gazette told a success story of church mergers that is inspiring for local churches to consider when faced with transition and merger situations. There are three takeaways from this story to think through when considering a merger.

First, understand your current reality. As noted in the story, because of aging congregations and declining financial contributions, volunteers and energy, many existing churches are in danger of not being able to survive long-term. These are congregations that have significant property or financial assets, but few attenders. Turning around a church like this is not impossible, but it is very difficult to do. If the attenders and leaders of the church that has significant assets, but few people are unwilling to accept new ideas, new leadership, and a new pastor, it is likely the church will die. However, churches with assets who are willing to accept the reality that they cannot find a senior pastor to take it to the next level yet want to see their church succeed in the future, may need to consider this option.

Second, be ready to give up power. The article tells the all-too-common situation where a thriving church has few assets and has grown out of its space but cannot afford a new space. It is highly unlikely that the thriving church would want to merge into the older church leadership system just to have a building. But if the older church is willing to give its property to the thriving church, both churches will grow and thrive. The older church with assets needs to know that when merging, it will likely lose its senior pastor, staff and other leaders who once helped grow the church – simply because they are no longer needed. The leadership must be comfortable with the knowledge that it will lose control of its assets.

Third, be ready for change. Even though the church with the senior pastor has the real property and financial assets that will be greater than the church it merged into, it has lost control of the power of the church and must accept change to let the newly merged church grow.  The new congregation may need to accept a new order of worship, new worship style, and yes – new worship music. If the leaders and members can understand this issue, it can then be ready to make the change.

The success story of a merged church offers valuable lessons for other faith communities contemplating similar journeys. First, open communication and transparency are crucial to fostering trust and addressing concerns. Second, a focus on shared values and a clear, unified vision provides the foundation for a strong future. Finally, careful planning and meticulous attention to detail ensure a smooth transition and a successful launch of the merged entity. In a world facing various challenges, a merged church stands as a beacon of hope, demonstrating that through collaboration and shared purpose, faith communities can not only survive but also thrive.

If your church is considering a merger, please contact Daniel Dalton or one of the professionals at Dalton & Tomich PLC to discuss your situation and allow us to help you walk through the merger process.

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