Joined (sometimes called merged) congregations are a form of partnership in which two congregations decided to join their budgets, boards, programs and missions into one organization. Often, in the joining of two congregations of equal or nearly equal size and resources, they will decide to legally come together and create a new joint congregation, with a new name and a new mission in a completely new site.
If the joining is between two congregations of different sizes and resource bases, often the larger congregation with more resources will ‘adopt’ the smaller one. The smaller church might then close or become a Multisite branch of the lead or larger congregation. The only thing that is not combined is the buildings. In these cases, the phrase “one church in multiple locations” also applies.
Once seen as a last resort or lose-lose option, church joinings have become a viable win-win option for mission-minded churches for struggling and stuck churches as well as strong churches.
- Joinings are becoming common, with over 40 percent of multisite campuses coming about as a result of a merger.
- Successful joining outcomes are not hostile take-overs, but are mission-driven and mutually-beneficial decisions by the leadership and congregations of both churches.
- Though most joinings are initiated by the joining church, more lead churches are initiating the joining/merger conversation.
- Different faith traditions are increasingly seeing joinings as an opportunity and strategy for salvaging and revitalizing declining congregations.
Joined Congregations are:
- made up of two or more congregations
- bound by a common identity and mission, as well as a single staff team, budget, board and set of programs
- motivated by “a spirit of shared mission.”
- hoping to achieve greater impact in their area than any of them could achieve on their own
Sometimes congregations come together out of a need for survival, but more often it is a matter of increasing vitality and impact. The great benefit of joining is that they eliminate redundancy and take advantage of economies of scale. Why have two preachers both writing four sermons a month, when each one could write two sermons and deliver them twice at each congregation, freeing up more time for other vital ministries?
Unlike the yoked models, merger congregations value common aspiration more than individualism. This allows them to more easily “give up” independent boards and budgets. Unlike the one-way support of a branch or campus model, a joined relationship tends to be more equal and mutually beneficial. The sharing a common journey and mission drives everything.
You Might Be Ready to Join With Another Congregation If...
- Would our two congregations be better together individually?
- Could we accomplish more together synergistically than we could separately?
- Would our community be better served together?
- Could the Beloved Community be further extended by joining together?
- You look over at your neighboring Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation and wonder, “Why aren’t we combining forces?”
- You see you and your neighboring congregation duplicating a lot of administrative work at the expense of ministry.
- You and your neighbor UU congregation are both struggling to maintain full-time staff, or wish you could give your minister a team-mate.
- The idea of combining boards and committees seems like a good way to free people for more meaningful ministry.
- Control issues do not seem to trouble your church culture
If these ring true, you might be ready to Join another congregation
Joining with Another Faith Tradition: A number of our UU congregations have joined with compatible UCC congregations and other faith traditions in the past and currently to share space and staff and other resources. Often, these are called Federated Congregations. A few of these include:
- First Parish Church United (UU and UCC), Westford, MA
- The First Church (UU and UCC) of West Bridgewater, MA
- People’s Church of Chicago, IL (UU and UCC)
- Eliot Church (UU and UCC) of Natwick, MA
- Article - Kristy Rutter on Making Church Mergers work
- Video - Jim Tomberlin on Church Mergers and Multi-Sites
- Books - Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work, Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird, Jossey-Bass, 2012
- Book - Church Mergers: A Guidebook for Missional Change, Thomas Bandy, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2016
Put simply, joined congregations look at each other and say, “Let’s do this together!”