East Valley Bible Church was already a megachurch. Praxis Church was headed in the same direction. But last year, pastors Tyler Johnson and Justin Anderson agreed to merge their thriving congregations in order to better reach the Phoenix area.
Today attendance at four campuses of Redemption Church—which accepted a third partner in January—is nearly 4,800, a 14 percent increase over pre-merger days for all three churches combined.
"This was born out of the idea of having a city church, like the church at Ephesus or the church at Philippi," said Anderson, Redemption's lead pastor. "We asked, 'What would be the advantage of 100 churches in Phoenix partnering together for church planting, sharing staff … and [providing] lay training?' "
A new report from Leadership Network verifies that such mission-driven church mergers are a growing trend. Two percent of churches have merged in the last two years and five percent are likely to by 2013.
Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird, who surveyed more than 400 churches earlier this year, say mergers have been on the rise in the U.S. and Canada for 20 years. Mergers have combined churches of different sizes, denominations, and ethnicities. Last October, an African American congregation in Missouri merged with a fading white church, preserving the latter's name.
Traditional survival-based mergers by dwindling churches often see the combined congregation ultimately shrink again. But the mission-driven model spurs additional growth, said Tomberlin, a multi-site consultant from Scottsdale, Arizona.
"The new merger math is one and one equals ten," he said. "There's a synergy about it."
Multi-site churches ...