In recent years many congregations in the United States have seen their membership numbers drop to the point where they were forced to close down.
Two such examples were Johnston Memorial Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation, and Ebenezer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, both located in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The two congregations experienced decline due to a host of factors, according to Stacey Martin of Forest Hill Church, a multisite church based in Charlotte, in comments to The Christian Post last month.
“Both of these churches had at one time been very reflective of the communities in which they were planted. Over time, however, both dwindling and aging congregations realized that they were no longer effective in reaching or representing the communities around them,” explained Martin.
“Because of gentrification and redevelopment of the areas around these churches, the demographics had changed, and these congregations realized they did not have the ability to be nimble enough to respond to the changes.”
Martin told CP that Forest Hill had connections to the two churches and, as a result, they were invited to purchase the two properties and make them part of their network of campuses.
“Forest Hill was invited in, not only because of the relational connection I previously mentioned, but because of a recognition that our approach to ministry was biblical, effective and unencumbered by some of the tradition and history that many denominations feel,” continued Martin.
“Our nimbleness around organizational growth and fiscal stability gave them confidence about moving forward in partnership with us.”
And so it was that Johnston Memorial Presbyterian became Forest Hill’s NoDa Campus and Ebenezer ARP became Forest Hill’s South Boulevard Campus, becoming two of Forest Hill’s six campuses.
A rising and growing trend
The two Presbyterian congregations becoming part of Forest Hill is not a rare occurrence, but rather is an increasingly sought after solution for small dwindling churches.
Ron Edmondson, CEO of the Leadership Network, an organization that seeks to help provide strategic resources for church leaders, called church mergers “a rising and growing trend.”
“Some 42 percent of multi-sites come by way of merger. The typical merger is a mainline church in decline merging with an evangelical, often non-denominational church,” Edmondson told CP.
“Across America, nondenominational churches are now 21 percent of all Protestant churches, according to Scott Thumma’s research at the Hartford Institute.”
Warren Bird, vice president of Research at the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, co-authored along with Jim Tomberlin the 2012 book Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work, which seeks to help guide congregations considering mergers.
“Mergers are occurring among churches of all sizes and types, and they are happening in urban centers, suburban neighborhoods, and rural communities,” noted the book’s Preface.
“Such mergers reflect a growing trend where two local churches at different life stages leverage their common DNA and complementary differences to generate greater synergy for a stronger regional impact.”
Bird and Tomberlin went on to point out in the Preface that 80 percent of Protestant churches were in decline or stagnant, while of the 20 percent that are growing “many are in desperate need of space.”
“These conditions present a potential win-win for forward-thinking church leaders who believe that ‘we can do better together than separate,’ and it is revitalizing church topography,” they added.
We are not competitors
Doing better together than apart seems to be the theme with the two congregations that joined Forest Hill, as according to statistics provided by Forest Hill, both sites have seen considerable growth following their merging with the multi-site church.
When Ebenezer ARP joined Forest Hill in 2015, they had around 25 weekly worshipers. Since then, the number has increased to over 200.
When Johnston Memorial Presbyterian joined Forest Hill last year, they had fewer than a dozen. That has since ballooned into approximately 300 attendees.
As part of the merger process, Forest Hill purchased the properties of both churches, with Martin of Forest Hill telling CP that the Johnston Memorial Presbyterian property in particular was much sought after by others.
“For Johnston Memorial Presbyterian, their property was highly-desired among developers in a new, up and coming area near Charlotte’s Uptown,” said Martin.
“But the elders of Johnston Memorial wanted the property to stay missional and to maintain the sacredness and original intent – to reach people for Christ. We consider it an honor that they entrusted Forest Hill with the continuation of that mission and the legacy of their church.”
NoDa Campus Pastor Jason Smith, whose campus was the former Johnston Memorial Presbyterian, said in a statement given to CP that he believed when “mergers or acquisitions take place in the Church, we need to see that we are not competitors.”
“We need to see that merging is not failing but instead assigning highest and best use to Kingdom resources. Partnerships like this give us the ability to increase Kingdom effectiveness across all lines of ministry. The possibilities are amazing,” Smith stated.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Gryboski