Ten top tips for merging churches

Methodist Superintendents who are already in the process of merging churches have identified these top tips for other circuits considering a merger:

  1. Start as soon as possible. You don't need to wait until church membership has dropped below 12 and something has to be done. If you are beginning to discern that some churches in the circuit are unsustainable - even if they have plenty of members - begin a discernment process about the future.
  2. Ask yourselves what God is doing. Approach discernments about merging churches as a prayerful spiritual exercise rather than an administrative headache. Cover all your conversations and efforts with prayer.  
  3. Focus on the mission of God. It may be buildings and governance issues that have prompted your discernment process, but set these aside for now. Begin by asking what God's mission in your circuit could look like.
  4. Leave buildings till last. People have strong emotional attachments to their chapels, which may go back generations. Resist any kind of decision about buildings until your discernment process is well underway and strong relationships have been built. Once you know the mission to which God has called you, then you will know which buildings are needed and how you might use them for God's mission.
  5. Invest in relationships. Spend time building trusting relationships with your churches, and between people in different churches. When people know and trust one another, they are far more likely to work together.
  6. Communicate with honesty. Tell people about the practical realities of what the circuit is facing - no matter how tough. Listen to people's thoughts and concerns. Good communication goes a long way to building trusting relationships and easing the pain of change.
  7. Acknowledge the cost of change. Change involves loss, and loss is painful. Acknowledge the pain instead of arguing it away. You may well do nothing differently as a result, but people will feel that they have been heard. 
  8. Stay calm in chaos. This may be a tall order at times, but leaders need to be able to offer a non-anxious presence, as far as possible. This will give people confidence that, with Jesus, the storm can be weathered.
  9. Collaborate. It's not all down to the Superintendent. Work with circuit stewards, church stewards and Local Preachers, drawing on their gifts and skills. For example, have Local Preachers speak about circuit changes as part of Sunday morning worship.
  10. Get support for your wellbeing. Leading change is tough. Both lay and ordained circuit leaders need to prioritise their wellbeing, getting the support they need from others. Here is a list of forms of support that are available.