Merging churches to further the mission of God

03 April 2023





Some stories

During the pandemic, two churches start worshipping together on Zoom. Once everything starts to open up, they begin worshipping together in one another’s buildings. When they start considering their future, one Church Council writes to the other, saying: “We’re going to think about our future. Shall we think about it together?”


In a circuit, three multi-site churches are created, and new relationships start to be formed. For the Diamond Jubilee, a whole day of food for the community is offered by one church, beginning with bacon sandwiches in the morning at the first chapel and finishing with a barbecue in the evening at the fifth. Over time, decisions about selling buildings have to be made, but this is no longer as painful to contemplate. “When our chapel reaches the end of its road,” folks say, “we know the people who will walk alongside us and will welcome us into their church family." 


All the eight churches in a circuit come together to become one church in eight locations. New missional experiments become possible by working together, which no individual church could have attempted before. A fledgling New Place for New People begins, with non-traditional worship based around walks and discussion on topical issues. There are conversations about collaborating on schools work and Messy Church across the eight locations.



Many circuits – perhaps most – are grappling with questions around the long-term sustainability of their smaller churches. With the minimum size of a Local Church now twelve, more churches are faced with making discernments about their future: whether and how to merge with another church or churches, and what will happen to their buildings if they do. There is clear guidance in place for the legal process of bringing two or more churches together to become a multi-site Local Church, but how should circuits go about approaching these decisions? And what might a multi-site Local Church look like?

Conversations with lay and ordained leaders who have already gone on this journey with their churches have revealed a number of key principles.

two-paths-convergingStart with the mission of God

The Methodist Church is committed to being a growing, evangelistic, inclusive, justice-seeking Church – so that new people become disciples of Jesus Christ, faith deepens for everyone, and diverse communities and churches experience transformation. 

This is how we understand God’s mission through the Methodist Church in Britain. A minister who helped two churches to merge explains that conversations began by asking one another, “Is God doing something new here? And how can we join in with it?” As a result, people started to say, “We can do it if we do it together”. Their sense was that merging was something God was asking them to do – rather than something they felt they had to do out of necessity – so that God might do new things through them.

Another minister of a multi-site church explains: “If we’re just [merging churches] to resolve the governance issues, we’re not freeing people to be who they need to be” – that is, able to offer their gifts in God’s mission, unconstrained by governance structures that are holding them back.


hearts-and-mindsRelationships are key

Different churches in the same circuit often don’t know one another well. When they have the opportunity to meet together – whether that’s by worshipping together on Zoom, meeting for worship in each other’s buildings, or sharing a barbecue – relationships are nurtured. These relationships make merging together seem a positive way forward rather than an unfortunate necessity. Differences become less important, working together becomes possible, even appealing, and future changes, such as the loss of a building, are less daunting.  


buildingsLeave buildings till last

People who have led conversations about a merger advise against talking about buildings too soon. Emotional attachments to buildings and fear of losing them can prevent people from engaging positively with circuit mission planning. Once relationships have been built and a vision from God has been discerned, people are likely to be more flexible and open-minded about options for church buildings.


models-of-mergerBe radical

Leslie Newton, Chair of the Yorkshire North and East District, urges circuits to be radical: ‘How many local churches do you really actually need, from a trustee point of view? Start with one – being circuit-wide – and justify, from a missional point of view, why you really think you need more.’ Circuits are encouraged not to tinker with governance arrangements, but to go ahead and create the structure that will best enable mission to take place.


If you’re starting to thinking about the future of your small church or churches, you can find guidance for circuit mission planning, including a consideration of different models of merger, at www.methodist.org.uk/mergeformission. On these webpages you will also find stories from Methodist churches and circuits that are already on this journey, and a list of different ways of accessing support as you make these discernments.

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