Churches merge, become 1 congregation
Published 3:42 pm, Thursday, October 27, 2016
DARIEN — Most people think of marriages as something that occur inside churches, not between them. But Calvary Baptist and Encounter churches have changed that. The two churches, who shared a facility at 988 Post Road since 2009, officially merged as one nondenominational Christian congregation, the Christ Community Church. The church celebrated its merger on Oct. 16 with a service followed by a cookout and party for the congregation.
Plans for the church merger began in December 2014. The churches had been sharing a facility for several years, with one church conducting services in the morning and the other conducting them in the evening. Despite being separate organizations, the two churches had been collaborating on mission work and church programs. When the pastor for Calvary retired, an interim pastor came in and a conversation began about having Chad Wade, creative arts/discipleship pastor for Encounter, and Landon Reesor, lead pastor for Encounter, take over the two churches as one organization. The two are now part of the pastoral leader team of the church and are assisted by a leadership board with members from both original churches.
“There was a solid working relationship,” Reesor said. “There was a high degree of familiarity with one another.”
The merger process continued into 2015 under Reesor, Wade and the interim pastor. The church leadership board helped with the process. In the spring, the team approved the pastors’ proposal for the merger, and the proposal was presented to the congregations in mid-2015. The congregation voted to continue the conversation about the merger and eventually issued a unanimous vote at the end of the year to officially merge the two congregations. In December, the church began transitioning away from the leadership of the interim pastor and under the leadership of the two pastors.
“This is where we were heading all along,” Reesor said.
According to Reesor, the merger worked because the church shares three fundamental similarities: a common theology, a common philosophy on ministry and a deeper relationship with God.
“Both had the desire to be churches that impacted the world,” he said. “Our beliefs were in alignment and together we could accomplish more.”
Reesor said the combining of the churches was like a marriage, and like with any marriage, there are compromises and finding ways of balancing personal identity with a new shared one. This was also new territory, as churches uniting is an uncommon occurrence.”
“Someone said to me that churches aren’t known for uniting, but dividing,” Reesor said.
“This is something bigger than us. We need to let go of logo, ego and names.
“There were definitely two senses of identity to merge,” he said. “We want to view this as a wedding.”
To symbolize its beginning as a new organization, the church had the congregation vote on a new name. They decided on the Christ Community Church, and Wade designed a new logo for the church that’s on the sign out front. The pastors, along with the church leadership board, wrote a new church constitution and new bylaws, which the congregations unanimously approved.
One struggle in uniting the congregations was appealing to the generation gaps in the two communities. Musical preferences, communication style and sermon message had to be altered to fit the 15- to 20-year age gap between the two audiences of the church, and the pastors had to learn the nuances of both groups. The morning service attracted an older crowd that prefers piano-led hymns and printed church bulletins, while evening services serve a younger crowd that likes pop songs and the church app to get their messages across.
“It was what resonated with the audience,” Wade said. “That has its time and its place.”
But with these different services, the church feels it can serve a more diverse crowd, which is part of the overall goal of the merger.
“In having both options, we’re in a better position to impact more people,” Reesor said.
In allowing this merger, Reesor said the congregation is demonstrating that the purpose of the church is not to serve the members themselves, but others. He said he hopes the combined powers of the churches will be able to make a bigger impact on the community.
“Part of our vision is for us to be known as a church whose beliefs about God and humanity translate into practical actions,” he said. “For people to have to be willing to walk the journey of transition, it has to be compelling,” he said. “We want this story to be the first of many of these types of stories. The church is a body of different parts, doing different things. Together, we are a full representation of everything we have available.”
The way to realizing this vision is still a work in progress, but both leaders hope the merger gives them a new, stronger platform for their congregation to do the work of God.