Welcome back to the unSeminary podcast. Today we’re chatting with Eric Rojas, Executive Pastor of Rolling Hills Church in Nashville, Tennessee.
Rolling Hills was started in 2003 and currently has four campuses in the Nashville area. As they’ve grown and gone multisite, they’ve developed a heart for church revitalization and partnering with struggling churches in the area. Eric is with us today to talk about why he has a heart for merging with other churches, and what to look for when considering a church adoption or rebirth.
- Consider a church merger. // 6,000-10,000 churches in America are closing their doors each year. These are places that were dedicated for Gospel work and zoned for worship. As a church grows and considers either going multisite or planting other churches, considering merging with a declining church can help them keep their doors open for their intended purpose. When considering a new area for a campus, Rolling Hills Church begins by looking at the community they are interested in and trying to find a church they can connect with.
- Network within the community. // As Rolling Hills explores a new area for a campus, their first priority is to serve that community and have a first impression of service. Through outreach initiatives, they start making contacts and networking which allows them to get the word out about a campus coming to the area. Sometimes out of these networking opportunities a relationship develops; they hear about a church that might be without a pastor, or looking to sell or close.
- Be proactive. // At other times Eric will make cold calls to existing churches in a community to gauge the interest in a church merger. Being proactive in this way has opened the door to numerous conversations with church’s leadership. Out of the three church adoptions that Rolling Hills has been involved in, all three of the churches initially had a negative response, but were willing to have a series of conversations, allow the Holy Spirit to work, see what Rolling Hills was all about, and eventually move to a merger relationship.
- Understand and honor the church. // Many struggling churches may view churches that approach them as a ‘machine’ that wants to take them over and wipe out who they are. Approach merger conversations with compassion and care, looking for ways to honor a church’s history. Allow them to understand who you are as a pastor and a church so they see your heart. Consider bringing on their staff if you decide to merge.
- Look for a rebirth opportunity. // The first step in the adoption process is to look for a church that’s ready for a rebirth. Churches may have tried several things already to save themselves, for example hiring a younger pastor or running Facebook ads, but without success. Look for a church that knows they can’t keep doing things the way they are currently. The senior pastor needs to be open to merging and have a willingness and humility in order to move forward. The two churches don’t have to be a perfect style and strategy fit, but they have to be in the same ballpark. Theology also needs to align between the churches. Be aware of any debt a church might have and if you can handle that debt if you were to merge.
- Check for bylaws. // There are some churches that can’t join another church because of their bylaws. It can be easier for a merger with independent churches or ones that are part of a denomination that has autonomy in the local church. If the church is part of a denomination, determine if it is owned centrally by the denomination, or by the local church. It’s difficult to merge with churches that are owned centrally, but it may be possible to cut the ties. Be aware that this can be a longer process though.
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