For years, a handful of members of Hillview Baptist Church in Franklin, Tenn., prayed their pews would be filled with worshippers.
In early June, those prayers were finally answered, as more than 300 people gathered for a Sunday morning service.
But the pews were gone. So were the traditional hymns. And a new sign outside the church now bore the name “Conduit Church.”
A few weeks earlier, the congregation of Hillview had voted to merge with Conduit, a 4-year-old nondenominational church. At the time, Hillview had dwindled to less than two dozen members, and was on the verge of shutting down.
“They were tired,” said Darren Tyler, pastor of Conduit, “and they knew their strategy wasn’t working.”
Instead of closing down, Hillview became one of a small but growing number of struggling evangelical congregations who’ve found new life by teaming up with a larger church. The mergers allow small churches to reinvent themselves and bigger ones to extend their reach.
The arrangement met a need for both congregations.
Hillview had a building but few people.
Conduit had people but no building.
The church had been meeting in a local high school since its founding. But the school board policy put a time limit on how long a church could rent.
“The clock was ticking,” said Tyler.
As part of the merger, Hillview gave up ownership of the building — which had a $150,000 mortgage. Just before the first joint worship service, a friend of Conduit Church came forward and paid off the building.
The process was a bit like dating — Tyler and Jim Gosney, Hillview’s pastor, met for coffee first, followed by a meeting of leaders from both groups. The whole process took about two months.
Gosney remains on staff, and the church plans to build an exhibit that highlights Hillview’s heritage.
“I don’t want their history to disappear,” said Tyler of the church that was founded in the 1980s.
Mergers may offer new life for many smaller congregations, which have been hit hard by the changing demographics of American congregations.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service