Today in church we had the news passed down to us that Freshwater Christian Church of Mississauga is going to be merging with Churchill Meadows Christian Church, also of Mississauga. I say “merging with” in lieu of the probably more apt phrase, “absorbed by”, considering that they’re the much larger church.
From a purely financial point of view, it makes a lot of sense (though this is not the only point of view from which it makes sense, I hasten to point out). Churchill Meadows is about five times or so the size of Freshwater, and has reached a point of fiscal maturity and sustainability, it would seem, so much so that they’ve been raising money for the last three years for and developing the plans for a building in which to meet. Freshwater — at least from what I saw today in the budget — has not reached a point of financial sustainability, such that the church is still gobbling up its initial setup fund. Solvent as far as I can tell only because of that fund. Freshwater gains financial stability in that they no longer have to worry about going into the red all the time. Churchill Meadows gains that extra 150 or so people that will frankly enable them to reach their building goal that much quicker. From a surface view of this all these seem to be the primary organisational benefits, without considering the obvious missional opportunities that a building and a less spread out staff entail.
I footnote that paragraph with my own experience of churches going broke: The Bridge, a wonderful place while it was still up and running, before it lost most of its congregation minus of course the core that started it. The Bridge was in the process of merging with 247 (if I recall the name correctly), when pastoral and leadership concerns put the kibosh on the whole deal, leading inevitably to The Bridge’s slow decline and finally its insolvency. When The Bridge finally closed down shop it left quite a few people with nowhere else to go, including some new converts who were very fresh to Christianity. It was, on the whole, a bad deal all around. Had The Bridge simply merged with 247 or some other like-minded church, I feel they would have been able to keep their ministry alive, give the people they sheltered a place to go, and especially provided the pastoral care for those new Christians. The Bridge closing its doors was, like I said, just a bad deal. I don’t fault anyone for this, but it was hasty, with the announcement coming a mere week before the organisation folded.
This merger is a little different, of course. We’re not closing down shop, Joel isn’t going anywhere, and we’re not about to disperse into the cold night never to see eachother again. It in fact prevents those things from happening. Which is a good thing in my view. The merger is also taking place with plenty of time in the interim: the churches are separate until October, when they’ll join at Freshwater’s current location. This gives us a lot of time to work out all those nasty little human problems that seem to occur whenever two organisations of any kind merge. For instance, I’m part of the worship team right now, playing keyboards every other week, and it occurs to me that Churchill Meadows also has a worship team. We’re really good (if I do say so myself; it’s not me, really, as much as Candace and Tim), but you have to expect that a church of 500 or so people has a better base from which to draw talented people. I raise this as an issue in particular because musicians, yes even Christian musicians, are generally a little more sensitive in the ego area than your average Joe off the street. When you try to merge two groups of people who both have separate synergies, you may end up finding that they don’t work as well together as they do apart. Or at least that the time it takes for two groups of musicians to get used to eachother can exceed your expectations. This might not even be a problem of course. I myself don’t have to play. I’ve gone to churches for a long time that didn’t need another pianist. Thankfully there’s a lot of time to work through this in people’s heads: I think the time-frame the leadership teams have chosen is a wise one. If there are any bruised egos, hopefully this will give them time to heal.
I’m writing this mostly to process it for myself. It’s going to be weird, seeing how every time I start attending a church something big changes. For instance, Living Waters got a new building and became an entirely different church almost overnight, it seemed. The Bridge shut down out of nowhere. Now Freshwater is merging, sort of losing its identity. This is fine; unless Jim (I think his name is) turns out to be some sort of heretic, or the church is just downright unfriendly and doesn’t have the missional heart I love so much about Freshwater, we’ll stick around. It’s not any further out of our way than Freshwater is. A different highway.
The losing identity does sort of bother me, though. I like Freshwater the way it is, relaxed, full of great people, and with absolutely amazing music. And when Churchill Meadows comes along, it does follow that the smaller church will lose its identity to the larger one. What that identity will end up being is left to the hands of God, I suppose. I guess I also have a certain amount of apprehension about what this new church will feel like: It’s so very hard to find a God-honouring, God-glorifying church that isn’t too backwards and isn’t too cool-whoring. When you do find such a place, seeing it being subsumed in another church that may or may not operate along the same lines is a bit like gambling, it would seem. I don’t know these people. I don’t know their modus operandi.
Now, those are just my feelings after hearing about it for the first time. I’m sure I’ll read this in a few weeks and months and wonder what the fuss was about. In the meantime, there are lots of good thing about this that I feel like I’ve accidentally de-emphasised.
Have a building is a great thing, or can be a great thing. I’ve know churches to build a nice, modern place to operate out of and then squander it trying to keep it safe and pristine and comfortable. If you have a building, use the sucker! And I have every confidence that Freshwater, with a building, a bunch of extra people, and a Joel with some time on his hands, will do great things with the building. Joel mentioned a few ideas he had, all of which sounded exactly like what a church is supposed to be doing in the world, being the hands and feet of Jesus, as he says. Give Joel a building, and I’m sure he can whip something up in a hurry. (By the way, Joel, if you ever read this, I’d suggest credit counseling for the community at large; debt is a whore who won’t wake up and leave.)
The new church, whatever its name is, will also have a greater opportunity to contribute on the modern mission field by planting another church to replace the one being lost to mergers and acquisitions. And this time, they have an opportunity to get rid of this half-assed toss-the-hatchling-out-of-the-nest trust fund approach that inevitably leads to fiscal, spiritual, and physical burnout. They — or we, I guess — have an opportunity to be a real mother church, to be there in terms of money and people power, so that those labouring in the word and in the community don’t have to constantly feel like a shyster shaking down the congregation for money, a juggler with too many balls in the air, and a prayer warrior with no time to pray. Can I suggest a radically under-churched area? Okay, how about at about Bloor and Dixie? There are tens of religions and thousands of people in that area alone, and the churches in the neighborhood are old and dying out with no new blood to replace the septuagenarian blood that has long ago grown thin. That’d be a great area, only 15 minutes away, that simply begs for a minor revival. Just an idea.
I could go on, but you get the idea. I’m liking what I see so far, and Laura and I will keep the two churches and their imminent merger in prayer. The way I see it, the human interactions are like gears, and prayer is like grease. Or something like that. It’s not a very good metaphor.