I've seen quite a few churches amalgamate over the years, and it's not always very successful. Often, the churches involved are in a highly stressed state, and they bring their anxiety over money and people and traditions into the amalgamated church, and the results aren't pretty.
First Grantham has been a really successful amalgamation, partly because of the courage and grace of the First United people, who went through a long and painful process of soul-searching, deciding they wanted to continue as a church family, but would have to leave their beautiful 150 year old building. I feel like they had already done most of the hard work before we got together.
On the plus side, everyone received an infusion of new energy. For the First folks, a handful of people didn't have to carry a whole load. For the Grantham folks, there were a bunch of new and energetic people.
Having two ministers meant that there was time to do some different things -- like launching a second worship service. Jeff Maissan and I were able to share the burdens of ministry, spell one another off, and give each other a needed break.
The income from the sale of the First United building, and two generous bequests from former First members, were huge. We couldn't have renovated our church building without those funds.
Eight years later, we are in much better financial shape than we were before the amalgamation.
Some things that aren't as good as we might have hoped ....
We hoped that amalgamating would lead to new growth -- and, while we've had lots of new people join the church in those 8 years, there are fewer people at church on Sunday morning than there were in the two congregations. Together, their attendance in 2003 was about 250-275. Now, it's just over 200.
We still spend most of our energy on keeping the church going -- on "maintenance" rather than "mission."
And, we aren't getting any younger. We might ask, "What will First Grantham look like in another 8 years -- in 2020 -- given the age of the congregation?" We're not really building the next generation as we'd hoped.
But, on the whole, I think God has really blessed us. I believe God's hand was in the coming-together of those two churches back in 2003-2004. That was a really big change for a lot of us, and, you know what? We found out we could do it, and the world didn't come to an end!
I'm excited about the possibilities for the future. After all, it's God's future, and we're supposed to just catch the wave!