Insights from 8 Church Mergers with Dan Zimbardi

Welcome to this week’s unSeminary podcast. Today I’m excited to talk with returning guest, Dan Zimbardi, Executive Pastor at Sandals Church in California.

Sandals started 22 years ago in the living room of lead pastor, Matt Brown, and today has 11 locations throughout the middle and southern parts of California.

Dan is with us today to talk about revitalizing and replanting churches through church mergers.

  • Finding a solution. // Churches in America are facing many challenges in today’s world. 80% of churches have plateaued or are declining. About 59% of Millennials that grew up in the church have left. Thousands of churches are closing their doors each year. Sandals Church has had a front row view in witnessing church closures so they started the ROGO Foundation in response. The ROGO Foundation focuses on people and places. The “people” side of the service trains ministry leaders and the “places” side is all about merging with churches, remodeling them, and then replanting them.
  • Honor the people. // Sandals Church has had the opportunity for eight different church mergers, and was able to remodel and replant seven of them. Another one was donated to them to sell and they used the proceeds to plant more churches and train more leaders. Sandals Church believes that everything belongs to the LORD. Through the ROGO Foundation they’ve found that by repurposing and repositioning these church buildings and assets, it’s been a great way to reach more people and raise up the next generation of leaders. But before you consider a church merger, it’s very important for the whole process to begin and end with honor. The ROGO Foundation asks God to help them keep a real posture of humility when entering into conversations with other churches.
  • Lead with empathy. // As the lead church, when entering into a conversation with another church, think about how you can best respect the members and staff of the follow church. Sandals invites the members of the follow church they’re talking with to sit down with another one of the churches they’ve merged with so they can ask any question they have. Be patient with the process, which can take a year or more. Dan reminds us that we have to go at the pace of the other church. As the lead church you can’t be overanxious, pushy, or get frustrated. You have to lead with empathy and humility.
  • Build relationships. // Spend time building a relationship with the people that are the body of Christ and get to know people from the follow church. If the church merger feels like a transaction to the follow church, it’s either not going to happen, or it’s going to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths after it’s done.
  • Count the cost before saying yes. // Practically speaking, it’s important to make sure you have enough money to relaunch and replant the church. Don’t enter into a partnership before thoroughly researching the situation and having necessary inspections.
  • Examine your motives. // When considering whether to partner and merge with another church, search your heart. If you are focusing on simply getting bigger or being the savior, the partnership won’t work and isn’t focused on God. Focus instead on how you can serve and build up the other church, whether or not you end up merging in the long run.
  • Look for guidance. // If you are part of a small church that is facing a difficult time, reach out to Sandals for guidance on the course of action to take. You can also take time to talk with the team at Sandals if you are part of a lead church that is looking for counsel on how to partner successfully with a follow church.

You can learn more about Sandals Church at www.sandalschurch.com and about the ROGO Foundation at www.rogofoundation.com.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.