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Craig Van Korlaar,
Chief Operating Officer
In the business world, mergers and acquisitions are fairly commonplace. Those that are successful tend to benefit all involved, but the process is usually long and most will face problems and resistance along the way. The same is true for nonprofits.
The following is a combination of results from analysis I conducted last year on the 50 Collaboration Prize submissions that related to mergers, as well as two case studies from recent church mergers in the metro Phoenix area.
Redemption Merger: Similar Vision, Differing Models & Audiences
East Valley Bible (EVB) was a large, well-established 20-year-old church located in the East Valley which comprised a single campus with multiple services. EVB had well-established programs for children, families, and older adults.
Praxis was a rapidly growing church with campuses in Tempe and a brand new one in Arcadia. Praxis was not only a young organization (5-years-old at time of merger), but it also had congregations primarily made up of people in their 20s and 30s. Initially, Praxis had been moving the Sunday speaker back and forth between both its locations every Sunday. Due to the logistical challenge, they were exploring a video campus model. They ended up going with a model which used separate live speakers at each of their two campuses but which had a single support and administration team.
Jake Johnson, Praxis' Executive Pastor, said merger talks picked up when Tyler Johnson of EVB asked, "If you do that with your church, why can't we just do that with our two churches together?" Two months later, the decision to merge was finalized, and, five months after this, the organizations were merged and rebranded to Redemption Church.
New City Merger: Similar Vision, Models & Audiences
Poiema Church and Day Twelve Church were both small church plants in downtown Phoenix which primarily composed of singles, young couples, and young families. Both churches also had an emphasis on serving the downtown artist community.
Poiema was a 5-year-old church with an average weekly attendance of 70. Poiema had just signed a lease for a property located on Central Avenue and invested in a remodel to facilitate its needs. Shortly afterwards, the church's teaching pastor announced that he would be moving out of state for family reasons and had helped put together a team to help look for a replacement.
Day Twelve was a brand new church plant of about 30 people that met in a historic home in the heart of downtown, which it converted into an art gallery. Though it was less than a year old, it had significant support from a number of the largest churches in the valley.
According to John Mitchell, Poiema "wasn't looking for a merger. Instead we were looking for someone who was committed to downtown Phoenix and shared the same vision." It just made sense to consider someone who was already doing this. Brian Kruckenberg said he and his board were open to it since Poiema was not asking Brian to leave Day Twelve but rather to lead a combined organization. Two months later, the choice to merge was officially made.
Challenges From Church Mergers
When asked what the biggest challenges faced in the Redemption Merger, Jake Johnson said, "I wish we would have taken more time. I think we did it too quick. I think we would have done well to extend it out a year and have more conversation, cultural alignment, etc. It would have saved ourselves a lot of organizational pain... That said, there are benefits of doing it quickly as it doesn't leave a lot of room for dissension to grow."
Jon Ashcroft is a designer who works for Redemption and helped Poiema and Day Twelve with rebranding to New City Church. When asked about the differences between the mergers and rebranding of New City and Redemption he said, "Redemption was trying to find something in the middle that worked for all involved. New City had a more established similar demographic; young and urban. New City was thus able to have a more simple and direct focus."
For New City, both pastors of the churches involved in the merger indicated that it was challenging but necessary to give up some plans and control. John Mitchell said he underestimated the emotional toll on himself and others involved and felt the rebranding might have been too soon. Brian Kruckenberg added that the sub-lease Poiema had signed was not ideal. Too much responsibility for maintenance and upkeep was put on the church, and the lease restricts how the church conducts Sunday services.
Results of the Mergers
Redemption has seen significant growth and has become a model for church collaboration around the nation. A third church in the east valley has since merged into Redemption Church giving them a total of 4 campuses, and they recently announced plans to start Redemption San Francisco.
New City Church has seen its attendance grow nearly 300% in the 11 months since the merger. They were forced to expand to two services and have a third in the works.
Are there any organizations you can think of that might benefit from a merger or other form of collaboration? What challenges and benefits do you think they would come across during this process?
Craig implements strategy, measures impact, and develops teams. His proactive leadership skills were honed as a decorated sergeant and enlisted aerial navigator for the U.S. Marine Corps and nurtured through his work in both the business and nonprofit sectors. In December, Craig will be graduating with a degree in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from ASU and will be attending the University of Colorado Denver's Business School in the spring.
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