I preached last weekend among a congregation celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the merger that created them. Two churches came together on December 14, 1096 and became a new church with a new name. They used the building that one of the two churches had historically owned. These days their congregation is small and currently without a regular pastor. Would we say that this was a “successful” merger or not?
Congregations merge together for a variety of reasons. Some merge for the sake of survival. Perhaps if they merge and “become one” they will not only survive, but they will thrive with more people and more capacity to serve others.
Some merged congregations “become one” in name only. All too often one church is absorbed by the other and it’s painful when a congregation loses their identity. Many mergers ultimately fail.
Please read this recent article in Christianity Today about church mergers. New ways of merging congregations might be our call for the 21st C. Church.
In this season, we remember that God merged with humanity in a particularly intimate way. Did that merger “work”? Yes and no.
Although Jesus modeled what an life obedient to God looks like, few of us live our lives in Jesus’ image. And how do we know that we are living in Jesus’ image? Jesus explains it this way:
“The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Matthew 11:4-5
Church mergers that “work” are the ones during which congregations seek to become one with God. The fruits of these mergers including healing and hope in the neighborhood. People who have been blinded by anger and bitterness regain their sight. Those who cannot walk alone find support until they can steady themselves. Today’s “lepers” are welcomed. Resurrection is a daily occurrence. And the poor don’t have to look for good news; it’s brought to them wherever they are.
100% of our thriving congregations understand that God is With Them as surely as God was with Mary. She joyfully welcomed that mysterious news that the Holy Spirit would come over her.
How many of our congregations are excited about the Holy Spirit coming over us in the new year? This is the kind of merger that makes all other mergers – with other congregations, with other organizations, with the neighbors – possible. We who serve in the image of Christ – or try to – can expect amazing things to happen.
Image source here.