Use this church merger checklist from professional Mary Lou Turnbull to help make the merger run smoother for the congregations involved.

Forward: This month, Church Windows Church Management Software has solicited the help of a true professional for our monthly subject. Mary Lou Turnbull has more than 10 years’ experience with Church Windows, but also more than 20 years’ experience helping churches who use any (or no) software package.

So, your church has decided to merge with another like-minded congregation? Maybe it’s due to budget shortfalls or possibly due to declining enrollment. Or maybe more positively, you have decided to combine resources to provide a broader ministry. Whatever the reason, effectively consolidating financial records and personnel may prove more challenging than you anticipated.

Let’s back up a little and review the most common types of church mergers.

  • Continuation or Survival Merger – two congregations legally join together as one
  • Absorption Merger – the lead church acquires the assets of the joining church or the joining church donates all its assets to the lead church
  • Rebirth Merger – both churches close and establish a new identity

There are a wide variety of resources that can help distinguish the pros and cons of each type. Here, we will focus on navigating the consolidation process to bring you out stronger on the other side. One of our Steeple clients is a Lutheran church in Michigan who consolidated three local congregations. The first one closed. Then, Church 2 and Church 3 merged to form a new entity. Now six months after the merger, we are sharing lessons learned during the transition.

Develop a Plan. Never underestimate the value of getting organized. Start with a checklist on what needs to be in place moving forward. Put someone in charge who is accountable for the progress.

Get Experienced People to Help You. The Finance Chair (a retired accountant) worked with Steeple Accounting to develop a streamlined Chart of Accounts for the new entity. Together, we developed a unified spreadsheet to account for the fiscal year-end balances from each church. This expertise saved countless hours of unraveling inaccurate balances and reconciling accounts.

Utilize the Resources (Strengths) that You Have. If you have a church management system that’s working and already have the expertise in house, keep using it. In this case, one of the merging churches used Church Windows and the other was using Quick Books. Because of the advantages of a fund accounting system, the decision was made to use Church Windows.

Allow the Experience to Improve Your Processes The church administrator for the newly merged congregation had the following to say. “Don’t reinvent the wheel – fix the broken wheel!”  Many organizations struggle with changing the way they’ve always done things. This can be magnified when churches combine. Take advantage of a fresh pair of eyes through the expertise and objectivity of the experts you have brought in to help.

People over “Things” Don’t forget to take into consideration the personnel component. It can be a challenge to bring together staff and volunteers from different churches. A congregation with unhappy, frustrated people may likely not last too long. Even if everything seems right on paper, disengaged members can zap the life out of a rebuilding effort. Try to gain consensus and the end result will reflect a collaboration rather than a forced combination of right answers.

Mary Lou Turnbull is the owner of Steeple Accounting Services, specializing in church accounting and fraud prevention. She is a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Certified Church Administrator with the National Association of Church Business Administration and a current Board member of the Central Ohio Association of CFEs. Mary Lou has over 20 years in experience with churches and other non-profit organizations. For more information, visit www.steepleaccounting.com or email [email protected]