When Churches Merge

We have a superb track record when nearby UB churches merge. I wish the Elgin UB church had gone that route.
My mom grew up at Elgin, a small rural congregation outside of Van Wert, Ohio. I was related to a good share of the congregation, nearly all of them farmers. I say “was” because the church closed some years ago after doing what way too many small churches do–numbers decline, young families don’t seem interested, the long-time faithful grow increasingly frustrated that nothing seems to work, they go through years of just trying to hang on…and eventually they close. A family bought the Elgin building and turned it into a house.

It always made sense, to me, for Elgin to join forces with the nearby Monticello UB church. They were on a circuit for many years, no more than ten minutes away. The preacher would do his thing at Monticello while Elgin held Sunday school. Then he’d rush over to Elgin, arriving during the singing and just in time for the message. Some wonderful Christian people attended Elgin, and Monticello would have benefited from their wisdom and commitment.

But too many of the Elgin stalwarts–and I can say this, because so many were my relatives–were smitten with no small amount of pride, and I always sensed a touch of rivalry with the larger Monticello. They feared being swallowed up, feared losing power. So instead, Elgin died a slow death. Some wonderful people squandered years of ministry aboard a clearly sinking ship, until finally they just gave up and closed.

On the other hand, consider these churches:

  • In 1985, three congregations merged to form the Lake View UB church in Camden, Mich., which today is a thriving congregation.
  • In the 1990s, the Calvary and Otterbein UB churches of Rockford, Ohio, merged. Today this growing congregation, called New Horizons, has a superb building on new property.
  • In 2000, the Immanuel UB church in Carlisle, Pa., merged with a non-UB church to form today’s Bethany Evangelical Church, a UB congregation.
  • Last year, two churches in or near Willshire, Ohio, merged to form PraisePoint. The Willshire and Zion churches, once both small and struggling, now have an amazing new building on a busy corner in Willshire, and their future is bright.

Merging congregations like this just plain works. As far as I can tell, our track record is 100 percent. I’m sure it’s the answer for some of today’s struggling UB churches. I hate seeing fine Christian people wither in frustration when they could become part of something alive and growing–something that would bring them great joy. But there is a price to pay in “giving up” power, control, and heritage, even though it’s for a greater cause. Too many congregations aren’t sufficiently courageous and selfless to make it happen. But others are. Perhaps your church has what it takes. Yeah, I’ll bet you do. See that UB church 10 or 20 minutes away? Talk to them.

  • Brent Liechty
    Posted at 19:09h, 03 August

    Steve, thanks for the wonderful comments. This is something that I have believed in for awhile. It is just so hard for people to give up control and comfort for the unknown. But the main drawback is pride, and it needs to be confronted more often, especially as costs are increasing to employ pastors and insurance for the church. This is a relevant message that needs to be trumpted more often.

  • Dick Raab
    Posted at 14:21h, 08 August

    What you have recommended is not new. Back in 1967 I was assigned to Gaines & Dutton UB Churches near Grand Rapids. In 1969 we closed the Dutton church and all (20-25) the people except 2 started attending the Gaines Church. Then, in 1979, I was also assigned to the Caledonia Church. We had already gone through a process of working toward merging the two Churches. I served Caledonia for 2 months and then the official merger took place with another 25-30 people becoming a part of the Gaines congregation. Gaines became a larger stronger church as a result. In fact, for awhile it was the 2nd largest church in Michigan Conference.

  • Mike Dennis
    Posted at 00:48h, 09 August

    Another positve example is Fowlerville UB. It was originally Conway and Cohoctah UBs.
    Am I correct in my perception that many of the successful church mergers (aside from Gaines example above) involved new facilities and/or relocation, and usually new names/identities?
    . . . . wondering out loud . . . . how many of our churches have shown positive growth after moving to new locations and or constructing new facilties or going through significant renovations and additions (by significant I mean that the original facility was barely recognizable.)

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