Merging Lessons

Over the last several weeks I've been helping two different church congregations consider merging. Both feel like start-ups, as most young churches do with limited staff and financial resources, but each has been around for 7-10 years and survived the challenges of a community that has weathered some of the hardest financial hits in the country. That said, in just a few short weeks some really clear lessons have emerged:

The less you do, the more you get done.

Instead of trying to solve every possible issue that might have come up, we started by focusing on the critical elements of the Sunday experience. Sure, that left a lot of ground that was not covered and tons of questions that never got addressed – but the energy in the room over the last few weeks on a Sunday morning has highlighted that if you focus on the core, and get it right, the rest will be ok to wait. Additionally, as more people have experienced and enjoyed the Sunday experience, they've chosen to get involved and help solve other issues.

Leading from the back is more helpful.

I know it sounds weird but as one of the non-senior pastors, I haven't had the burden to have all the answers or to lead from the front. So instead, the approach I've taken is simply to suggest courses of action, to highlight questions that need addressing, and to articulate feedback we're hearing. This approach doesn't determine the course as much as suggest what's off-course, and it gives others the ability to run forward. We've had a variety of folks really step up and shine in the areas they excel at and it's been fantastic.

Communication is everything.

Probably the thing I've tried to focus on, in the midst of everything else, has been on communication. Between pastors, between leadership teams, and across the congregation. And the amazing thing is how a few simple emails and/or conversations have lowered the anxiety dramatically. Change is not an easy thing, but talking about it – before, during and after the changes – really has helped.

Change can be welcomed, when done right.

I love what the Heath brothers write about change. Sure, most people think change is horrible and tough, but people get married or have kids all the time. And often, they celebrate it. And those changes are significant. So the truth is that some change can be embraced, if it's managed right. The metaphor we've used is dating – engagement – marriage because it's one that you don't rush into, but can be full of joy if done right.

Have you been part of this merger? What have you learned? Have you been part of any kind of merger? Thoughts?

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.