About the Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series



Part One: The New Merger Landscape

Chapter 1: God is Doing Something New

Eleven Merger Contexts

Is This God at Work?

Biblical Basis for Mergers

Mergers as a Strategy for Change

The New Math of Mergers

Serial Mergers and Merger Churches Networks

Why Mergers in the Past Often Failed

A Dream of Greater Kingdom Ministry

Chapter 2: Four Models for Healthy Mergers

Rebirth Mergers

Adoption Model

Marriage Merger

ICU Merger

Realistic Hope

Chapter 3: Missional, Multisite, Multiethnic, and Other Merger Motives

Wrong Motives

Temptations Good and Bad

Potentially Healthy Motives

Rarely a Single Motive

Part Two: How Healthy Church Mergers Work

Chapter 4: Stages and Speed of a Merger

Three Big Questions

Overcommunicate at Every Stage

Chapter 5: How to Measure Success

Measuring Merger Success

Comparison with the Business World

Urge to Merge



Personnel Changes

Name Change

But Not Conflict Free

Chapter 6: Why Mergers Fail

Landmines to Avoid

Landmines in the Preliminary Phase

Landmines in the Deliberation Phase

Landmines in the Postmerger Phase

From a Consultant’s Perspective

Insights from the Business World

Chapter 7: Financial and Legal Aspects of a Merger

Time for Attorneys

Three Ways to Merge

Additional Issues to Consider

Dollars Involved in a Merger

Avoiding a Real Estate Scramble

Escape Clause

Chapter 8: Personnel Changes

Senior Pastor

Transitions for Boards

General Advice for Staff Transitions

Part Three: Your Next Steps

Chapter 9: Determining Whether Your Church is a Good Merger Candidate

Lead Churches

Joining Churches

It Takes Work to Find God’s Leading

How to Discern If Merging is the Right Thing

Evaluating Potential Merger Partners

Systematic God Checks

Chapter 10: How to Start the Merger Conversation

Look Beyond the Walls of Your Church

Pursue Reconciliation Where Needed

Build Multiethnic Bridges

The Kind of Leader a Merger Needs

Humility Goes a Long Way

Chapter 11: Self-Assessment for Merger Readiness

Key Indicators

Alternatives to Merging

Comparison Profile Exercise

Chapter 12: Exercise

Identifying Their Issues

Specific Issues to Address

Chapter 13: Managing Pain and Change

Insider’s Look at the Process

How to Change Church Culture

Learning from the Pain

Putting Your Feet to Faith

Chapter 14: Where Do You Go from Here?

More Churches Through Merging?

Bright Future Ahead

Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Appendix D

Appendix E

Appendix F

Appendix G

Appendix H


The Authors



More Praise for Better Together

This is a must-read book for several reasons: It’s the first of its kind on a new, increasing wave of church mergers built on vision rather than survival. It’s based on real-life, first-hand research based on real church mergers by two of Christianity’s most respected voices. It develops a common language that subsequent conversations about church mergers can build upon, and the authors walk the reader through the various steps to a successful church merger.”

—Dr. Bill Easum, president, 21st Century Strategies, Inc.,; coauthor, Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by Church Starts

“Tomberlin and Bird have knocked the ball out of the park in this book. The research is incredible, the content is insightful and the net results are invaluable. Considering the trends, this book is a must-read for church leaders serious about making the most of what God gives them.”

—Dan Reiland, executive pastor, 12Stone Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia; author, Amplified Leadership

“The church merger process that has been instinctively used in the past . . . has failed. And it will continue to fail. If a merger is at all in your thinking, please read this book. There is a right way . . . and you’ll find it here!”

—W. Charles Arn, president, Church Growth Inc., Monrovia, California; author, Heartbeat: How to Turn Passion into Ministry

“This book addresses the most common challenges related to church mergers. Having planted several churches as well as having experienced the complicated task of a church merger, this is a must-read. You can choose to travel this road alone, but take my advice, it’s always easier, faster, and ‘better together.’”

—Jaime Loya, senior pastor, Valley International Christian Center, San Benito, Texas

“An essential resource for any mission-driven church considering a merger. Practical, field-tested strategies that will help leaders avoid common pitfalls. I highly recommend it!”

—Jonathan Schaeffer, senior pastor, Grace Church, Middleburg Heights, Ohio

“We need this kind of win-win thinking in the church. I’d love it if denominational leaders were thinking this way. (I wonder if a challenge needs to go out to them explicitly!) I don’t know of any resource like this in print. Better Together will stimulate a wave of kingdom impact that will make us all say ‘Why didn’t we think of this sooner?’”

—Mark Ashton, senior pastor, Christ Community Church, Omaha, Nebraska

“Today’s congregational leaders often wonder whether “going it alone” is their best option. Yet the “m-word” (merger) can elicit tremendous fear, confusion, and disappointment—both when the negotiations succeed and when they don’t. This book offers clear and thoughtful guidance about the how and the why (and even the ‘Why not?’) of merger initiatives. Serious study of this material will move leaders miles ahead in their thinking and will greatly increase the chances that a robust and renewed ministry will result from a merger initiative.”

—Alice Mann, consultant, The Alban Institute; author, Can Our Church Live?

“Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird have bent my mind again. Like many, I was mired in the old math of church mergers—and now I see that mergers, done well, offer a powerful way to expand God’s kingdom. Better Together is ahead of its time. It’s thorough and inspirational without being laborious. Thank you, Jim and Warren, for pushing me in this direction!”

—Dr. Tom Nebel, director of Church Planting, Converge Worldwide, Orlando, Florida

Better Together is a practical and complete guide to an emerging opportunity to reclaim and maximize kingdom resources. Don’t attempt to even consider a merger without taking advantage of their research.”

—Steve Stroope, lead pastor, Lake Pointe Church, Rockwall, Texas; author, Tribal Church and It Starts at Home

“Opportunities for churches working together have never existed like they exist now, but only those who are alert and aware of these strategies will take advantage of this connection. Merging churches takes help and expertise, and this book is a powerful guide to jumpstart such an endeavor.”

—Rick Bezet, lead pastor, New Life Church, Central Arkansas

“In a church I previously served, I initiated a merger. Ours was the joining church, and we became part of a stronger church in my community. We did many of the things this book recommends. It was the best thing to do for my church and for the kingdom of God. God really blessed the merger.”

—Rod Layman, pastor, First Baptist Church, Mesa, Arizona

“When I began consulting twenty-four years ago church mergers were normally based on two dying churches coming together for survival. Not so any more. Tomberlin and Bird show that today’s most successful mergers are mission-driven as two (or more) churches come together around a compelling vision. . . . Better Together will become a definitive guidebook. Out of a complex and emerging landscape, Tomberlin and Bird have distilled useful principles and provided a new vocabulary of family-related terms to use. We are speaking of our own merger as a ‘marriage’ because we envision ‘having kids together’ through new ministry sites in the future.”

—Rev. Dr. Christopher M. Ritter, directing pastor, First United Methodist Church, Geneseo, Illinois

“Tomberlin and Bird give us a great resource to help churches join together for a greater impact. Having experienced a church merger firsthand, I’m convinced it’s worth the journey. Here’s a guidebook to help you along the path.”

—Tony Morgan, strategist,; coauthor, Killing Cockroaches: And Other Scattered Musings on Leadership

“Tomberlin and Bird rightly describe a growing movement among churches learning to walk, work, and worship God together as one; churches rejecting competition for cooperation and working smart not hard. As one who has both led and benefitted from church mergers, I invite you to prayerfully consider this practical guide.”

—Dr. Mark DeYmaz, pastor, Mosaic Church, Little Rock, Arkansas; author, Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church

International Praise for Better Together

“Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird are on to something very important. As they point out, you don’t have to use the word merger. Regardless of what you call it, the concept is similar to church planting and has tremendous potential to expand the impact of vibrant churches as well as revitalize declining churches.”

—Nicky Gumbel, senior vicar, Holy Trinity Church Brompton, London; founder, Alpha Course

“God is rewiring his church to reach a new generation. Better Together is an invaluable resource to any church considering a merger. It is comprehensive, well researched, practical, and insightful. We pastor at a multisite church that has successfully grown through a merger and can say, ‘Tomberlin and Bird get it!’ Mergers have great potential. They also come with potential pitfalls. This book will help ensure both churches involved are truly better together.”

—Bruxy Cavey, teaching pastor, and Tim Day, senior pastor, The Meeting House, Oakville, Ontario, Canada

“Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird have provided the church with a visionary and practical book from which, if many church leaders could embrace it with real humility, the kingdom impact could be huge. Whether you lead a thriving church or are involved in one that is struggling, I commend this book to you.”

—Steve Tibbert, senior pastor, King’s Church, London, England; author, Good to Grow

“This book is a treasure trove of gems, practical tips on how to navigate the rough seas of merging a church and some small things that can have a major impact. If we had this book fifteen years ago when we had undergone such an endeavour, it would not have been so painful for a lot of people, and we would have been able to avoid many of the pitfalls we have found ourselves in. I can recommend this book to any church considering embarking on such a journey.”

—Dr. Johan Geyser, cultural architect, Mosaïek Church, Johannesburg, South Africa

“Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird have always been great at understanding what the next move is in church culture. With Better Together—Making Church Mergers Work they have brought the topic of mergers to a wider audience. Church mergers are not only relevant in the United States, but also in Europe with huge church-planting implications. It’s a must-read book for church leaders who are strategic thinkers.”

—ND Strupler, executive director, ICF Movement, Zurich, Switzerland

“The book is extremely helpful in understanding that good mergers actually increase the kingdom of God—including the total number of churches because they become vehicles of change, not preservers of the status quo. Mergers may not be what church leaders had in mind for their churches when they started them, but they may indeed be God’s key to open doors to new opportunities of greater harvest. For those local churches considering a merger, Better Together contains lots of practical wisdom that would lead to peril if not heeded.”

—Dr. Dietrich Schindler, executive director, Church Planting, Evangelical Free Church, Germany

“Much like blended families, church mergers are becoming more frequent in our generation. Thanks to Better Together, we now have an excellent guide to assist us in avoiding the land mines and maximizing the potential of this unfamiliar territory.”

—Mark Conner, senior minister, CityLife Church, Victoria, Australia

Leadership Network Titles

The Blogging Church: Sharing the Story of Your Church Through Blogs, Brian Bailey and Terry Storch

Church Turned Inside Out: A Guide for Designers, Refiners, and Re-Aligners, Linda Bergquist and Allan Karr

Leading from the Second Chair: Serving Your Church, Fulfilling Your Role, and Realizing Your Dreams, Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson

In Pursuit of Great AND Godly Leadership: Tapping the Wisdom of the World for the Kingdom of God, Mike Bonem

Hybrid Church: The Fusion of Intimacy and Impact, Dave Browning

The Way of Jesus: A Journey of Freedom for Pilgrims and Wanderers, Jonathan S. Campbell with Jennifer Campbell

Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration, Samuel R. Chand

Leading the Team-Based Church: How Pastors and Church Staffs Can Grow Together into a Powerful Fellowship of Leaders, George Cladis

Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, Neil Cole

Church 3.0: Upgrades for the Future of the Church, Neil Cole

Journeys to Significance: Charting a Leadership Course from the Life of Paul, Neil Cole

Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders, Earl Creps

Reverse Mentoring: How Young Leaders Can Transform the Church and Why We Should Let Them, Earl Creps

Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church: Mandate, Commitments, and Practices of a Diverse Congregation, Mark DeYmaz

Leading Congregational Change Workbook, James H. Furr, Mike Bonem, and Jim Herrington

The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community, Hugh Halter and Matt Smay

Baby Boomers and Beyond: Tapping the Ministry Talents and Passions of Adults over Fifty, Amy Hanson

Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey, Jim Herrington, Mike Bonem, and James H. Furr

The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation, Jim Herrington, Robert Creech, and Trisha Taylor

The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century, Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim

Whole Church: Leading from Fragmentation to Engagement, Mel Lawrenz

Culture Shift: Transforming Your Church from the Inside Out, Robert Lewis and Wayne Cordeiro, with Warren Bird

Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement, Will Mancini

A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey, Brian D. McLaren

The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian, Brian D. McLaren

Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church, Reggie McNeal

Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church, Reggie McNeal

Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders, Reggie McNeal

The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church, Reggie McNeal

A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders, Reggie McNeal

The Millennium Matrix: Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church, M. Rex Miller

Your Church in Rhythm: The Forgotten Dimensions of Seasons and Cycles, Bruce B. Miller

Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches, Milfred Minatrea

The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World, Alan J. Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk

Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition, Alan J. Roxburgh

Relational Intelligence: How Leaders Can Expand Their Influence Through a New Way of Being Smart, Steve Saccone

The Post-Black and Post-White Church: Becoming the Beloved Community in a Multi-Ethnic World, Efrem Smith

Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers, Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird

The Externally Focused Quest: Becoming the Best Church for the Community, Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw

The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath

Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches, Scott Thumma and Dave Travis

The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church’s Spectators into Active Participants, Scott Thumma and Warren Bird

Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work, Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird

The Elephant in the Boardroom: Speaking the Unspoken About Pastoral Transitions, Carolyn Weese and J. Russell Crabtree

About the Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series

Leadership Network’s mission is to accelerate the impact of OneHundredX leaders. These high-capacity leaders are like the hundredfold crop that comes from seed planted in good soil as Jesus described in Matthew 13:8.

Leadership Network . . .

Believing that meaningful conversations and strategic connections can change the world, we seek to help leaders navigate the future by exploring new ideas and finding application for each unique context. Through collaborative meetings and processes, leaders map future possibilities and challenge one another to action that accelerates fruitfulness and effectiveness. Leadership Network shares the learnings and inspiration with others through our books, concept papers, research reports, e-newsletters, podcasts, videos, and online experiences. This in turn generates a ripple effect of new conversations and further influence.

In 1996 Leadership Network established a partnership with Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint, to develop a series of creative books that provide thought leadership to innovators in church ministry. Leadership Network Publications present thoroughly researched and innovative concepts from leading thinkers, practitioners, and pioneering churches.

To learn more about Leadership Network, go to


On Thursday, December 7, 2000, two elders from a nearby church called and asked me if I’d consider becoming their pastor. Because the church I had started,, was thriving and just about to celebrate our fifth anniversary, I didn’t even consider praying about it and politely declined. To my surprise, they didn’t take “no” for an answer.

The men queried again, this time asking me if I’d at least pray about it. Trying not to sound rude, I explained that I was certain God wanted me to continue with the church we started. Sensing their deep desire to find a pastor, I offered to help them find the best person to lead their church. I was shocked when they declined my offer and asked me a third time to consider becoming the pastor of their church. “Is there anything we could do to get you to consider our church?” the men asked with genuine passion. “We really feel like God led us to you.”

At this point I felt a little frustrated by their persistence and said somewhat flippantly, “Well, if you want your church to become a part of ours, I’ll consider that.”

I’m not sure if I expected them to laugh, scoff, or walk away. I do know that I never, ever expected them to say they were open to that idea. Exactly thirty days after that initial conversation, on January 7, 2001, 89.6 percent of their church voted to merge with our church, and we became one church in two locations.

At the time, I’d never heard of a church merger before. As the years would unfold, I discovered that many churches across the world are asking the question, “Could we do more for God’s glory united with another church than we are doing alone?” Now, what was unheard of before is becoming a viable and strategic option for many congregations.

Since our first partnership with that local church, we’ve joined forces with four other smaller churches in four different states. Even though these have all worked out well, we’ve stepped away from dozens of similar merger opportunities.

Over time, we’ve discovered that two are often better than one—but not always. Sometimes 1 + 1 = 3. Combining the right ministries can produce better outcomes than the individual ministries could accomplish alone. But other times, 1+ (the wrong) 1 = 0. Although healthy mergers can create a spiritual synergy greater than you can imagine, the wrong mergers are like cancer to a human body.

I’m so thankful that someone finally wrote a book to address the hidden challenges and unexpected opportunities of uniting two ministries into one. And I’m even more thankful that it wasn’t just anyone, but two of the most knowledgeable men I know on this subject. Not only do I value Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird as friends, but I’m also deeply grateful for their hearts to serve the local church. If you are considering joining forces with another church, you’ve picked up the right book. Read Better Together carefully. Read it prayerfully. And I know God will prepare you to make the right decision.

Craig Groeschel


“I think you’re dead on by suggesting that church mergers will be the next ‘big thing.’”

The North Carolina pastor who said these words to us has not been part of a merger—yet. He suspects his church might be a good candidate for a merger, but he wants to know more about how exactly a merger could help his church go forward, how the merger process might unfold, where to find another church that his congregation could join with, and what pitfalls he and his congregation should avoid.

He represents a new wave of Protestant church leaders, denominational and nondenominational, who are watching the merger landscape and are curious as to whether God might be leading in that direction for their church and are therefore asking, “Should there be a merger in the future of our church?”

We are convinced a wave is building with a new kind of mission-driven church merger that will transform the church landscape across the world. Mergers are occurring among churches of all sizes and types, and they are happening in urban centers, suburban neighborhoods, and rural communities. 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.

These new kinds of merger are not what have been typical of the past, when two struggling churches made a last-gasp effort to survive. Church-merger conversations may begin because of financial difficulties, surface through local partnerships or denominational affiliations, or become initiated by a multisite church, but mergers today succeed largely because of a united, compelling vision that lifts a church that’s stuck or on a downward slope into a new pattern of life and growth.

Mergers today succeed largely because of a united, compelling vision that lifts a church that’s stuck or on a downward slope into a new pattern of life and growth.

Roughly 80 percent of the three hundred thousand Protestant churches in the United States have plateaued or are declining, and many of them are in desperate need of a vibrant ministry. Among the 20 percent of growing congregations across the United States, 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.

Why This Book?

We believe Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work is the first book in existence to focus on church mergers—and that it is long overdue. Excellent books exist on church turnarounds, church revitalization, and when necessary even church closings. However, scant formal attention has been paid to mergers, especially ones in which at least one of the merger partners is healthy and growing.

Better Together is also the first book to offer alternatives to the old, failure-prone approach that defined a merger as the coming together of two declining churches. It is also the first book to cite and draw insight from several research projects on church mergers, which are mentioned in the book and listed in Appendix G. Throughout the book we strive to offer specific, practical, how-to advice on best practices in the merger process.

In this book we propose a common language to talk about this growing phenomenon, we identify different merger models, and we also create distinctions between a lead church and a joining church. Although the topic of church mergers is discussed in the public media, church leaders need far more than news feeds about which churches in their area are planning to merge. For those who do merge, or even want to begin such discussions, there is a desperate need for a new language to talk about the topic because so many people find the currently used terms pejorative, too businesslike, or too confusing. As Chapter One points out, many church leaders don’t even like the word merger but to date no winning destigmatized alternative has emerged.

Although clear terminology is important, we hope the most important contributions this book makes are the stories representing numerous denominations and church sizes, hard research studies on the topic, and frontline advice of what’s working and what’s not.

Why Jim and Warren?

Both of us love the local church and believe passionately that God wants to use it to fulfill Jesus’s command to make disciples of Jesus Christ (see Matt. 28:19–20). We each trained for ministry—Jim at Georgia State University (BA) in Atlanta and Dallas Theological Seminary (ThM), and Warren at Wheaton College (BA) and Wheaton Grad School (MA) in Wheaton, Illinois; Alliance Theological Seminary (MDiv), Nyack, New York; and Fordham University (PhD), Bronx, New York. Then we each pastored churches as lead pastors and as assisting pastors, Warren on the East Coast and Jim in the Southwest and Midwest, as well as in Europe.

Today Jim is a full-time church consultant based in Phoenix. Nationally one in three of his clients are involved in a merger. Warren, who lives outside New York City, works full time with Leadership Network, overseeing its research division that for the last five years has included study and interviews about church mergers.

Both of us are seeing more interest in church mergers with each passing year, so much so that we’re convinced a book is needed. We strongly believe there is no need for everyone to invent the wheel independently of each other.

Flow of the Book

The book shows how to think about and complete a successful merger. The first section is introductory, the second is informative (descriptive), and the third instructional (prescriptive). Appendixes at the end include a checklist of steps to take in a merger, examples of frequently asked questions (FAQs) from several actual mergers, and details on several dozen churches whose merger stories we tell in the body of the book.

To help with the conversation, we propose the terms lead church and joining church, which we use from Chapter One onwards. Our sense is that every church merger involves a lead church and a joining church. The merging of churches is a delicate dance in which one leads and the other follows. Some are almost equal but most are vastly unequal in size and health. Regardless, one always leads and the other follows.

We also suggest a family-related set of terms: rebirth mergers, adoption mergers, marriage mergers, and intensive care unit (ICU) mergers. We explain and illustrate these models in Chapter Two.

A Merger in Your Future?

The day before we sent the final edits back to the publisher, an excited pastor told us about a merger that occurred almost a year previously. “It’s been a phenomenal experience,” he said, describing his largely Asian congregation that merged with a largely Caucasian congregation. “The merger opened up a larger mission field for us. We have become more effective at being able to reach people of all ethnicities.” Indeed the congregation’s origins are now about 40 percent Asian, 40 percent Anglo, and 20 percent African, Hispanic, or Middle Eastern. With obvious passion this pastor then described the roughly two hundred people who gather each Sunday. “Our church increasingly looks like what the kingdom of heaven will look like.” Our response is that if this is but one of the fruits that mergers are producing, then the idea is certainly worth a serious and prayerful exploration.

If you’re not already having conversations about mergers, there is a good likelihood that you will soon, whether you’re on paid church staff, a lay leader, an active church member, a denominational leader, or a seminary student. As you do, we want you to bring far more faith and optimism to the discussion than what you find in the typically dismal newspaper headlines about two struggling churches being forced to merge as a desperate, last-gasp hope for survival.

Mission-driven church mergers have tremendous potential to exponentially expand the impact of strong, vibrant churches as well as to revitalize plateaued and declining churches.

Instead, by reading this book you’ll see that mission-driven church mergers have tremendous potential to exponentially expand the impact of strong, vibrant churches as well as to revitalize plateaued and declining churches. Yet the journey is not without danger. There are numerous landmines to be avoided by any who embark on a merger expedition with another church. We want to help strong and struggling churches alike to know that merging is a viable option for impact and revitalization. We want to show how it can be adapted to assist vibrant churches in reaching more people. We want to give hope to leaders of stuck or struggling congregations that their church might find a second life through a successful church merger. We want your church to consider how it might do ministry better together.

Part One