Brief Thoughts on Mergers and Pluralism
I was recently asked to give a lecture on the subject of mergers and pluralism. Here are a few brief thoughts on the subject.
The idea of mergers and pluralism begins with a focus outside the local congregation onto something else. It will be beneficial to examine this focus to see whether or not it is healthy for the local congregation.
Mergers and pluralism are not something common to all places and time. There are things within our culture that allow for mergers and pluralism to not only exist, but to be popular. We need to identify these culturural influences to understand why mergers and pluralism are popular. I do not pretend to know and understand all of the elements behind a congregation’s desire to look outward, but I believe there are certain things within our culture that feed this desire. As already stated, this desire is not present in all cultures and times, so there must be things within a culture that foster the desire to look outward.
Communication – This encompasses many things. Most other cultures did not worry about mergers because they did not communicate with many people outside their town. If all we know is what goes on in a 5 mile radius around our church building, then we are not going to have much desire to look outward. We live in a day and age where not only do we know and hear about things near us, but we hear about things that take place half-way around the world. We are flooded with news and information on a regular basis. This is not the cause of mergers and pluralism, but it definitely presents a breeding ground. We must also think of mergers and pluralism outside the realm of religion. Congregations are not only influenced by other religious bodies, but they are also influenced by entertainment, politics, fashion, and all kinds of other things. Communication is like many things we find in the world, it can be used for good or evil, and we must decide how we plan on using it.
Focus on Others – Our country has an unhealthy focus on others. We constantly want to know what our favorite actor, athlete, TV personality, etc. is doing or saying. We are always connected, so we get instant updates on what is going on. Congregations can get caught up in this mentality as well. They can have fixations on congregations who they believe are doing wrong, or they can obssess over religious bodies who they believe can do nothing wrong. With either extreme the result is the same. Congregations spend more time focusing on outsiders than what is happening with their own members.
Competitveness - Perhaps the greatest motivating factor behind mergers and pluralism is the drive to be the best. Americans are fixated with winning and being the best. This mentality has produced many great things for this country, but it can also lead to ruin. We foster the competitive drive in the church with our focus on numbers. We focus on how many are in attendance, how many baptisms, how many restorations, how many in VBS, etc. Although it is good that people are hearing and responding to the gospel, this may not be the best way to measure a congregation’s success. I believe there is an overemphasis on numbers and a lack of emphasis on spiritual formation and growth. If a church has good numbers, but is not growing spiritually does God consider this a success? If a church has a lot of baptisms, but does not teach or even keep these members is God pleased with this? I believe our competitve nature has sometimes caused us to focus on the wrong areas, and therefore led us to make poor decisions.
One might assume after reading my thoughts above that I am against mergers. That is not so. I was a part of a church merger not long ago. I encouraged this merger and I still support it to this day. I believe we merged for the right reasons. We did not merge out of desperation. We did not merge because it was the popular thing to do. We did not merge to become the biggest church in town. We merged because God does not want division in His church (John 17:20-24). We merged because we were trying to be good stewards of God’s money (If we were not paying utilities on two buildings, then we could support more mission efforts.). We merged so we could become better evangelists (We found that having two congregations in one town was a barrier to evangelism.).
Where should we go from here? In the few years I have been in ministry, I have sometimes witnessed an unhealthy focus on others from the right and the left. Our ultimate concern as leaders and members of a congregation should be to that congregation. Our next concern should be to reaching people in our community. If we will focus all of our efforts on our congregation and our community I believe we will have little time left over. Let us commit ourselves to our congregations and our communities, and use the gifts God has given us wisely.