Can we conceive of the possibility of church mergers? Some folks may consign this question to science fiction. But sci fi predictions of just twenty years ago are now reality. For instance the role of social media in societies and the possibility of control of the world by information communication technology companies were considered fantasies less than two decades ago. Now the world can only marvel at the way we live and we even ask how we lived without electronic this, that, and everything else including social media (Remember the old Zik quote?).
The way things are going in Nigeria, church mergers may take place sooner than later. Or, like banks, the big churches may swallow the smaller ones which have growth potentials and distinct/unique advantages. Some scenarios to consider:
- Resistance to change. Some churches are so steeped in old ways it will take a planet to leave its orbit before those churches embrace change. To them cut and dried ways have served for decades if not over a century. No one should rock the boat or change a ‘winning’ style, in fact, shift what even some new schoolers regard as ancient landmarks! I participated/worshiped in two orthodox churches a few Sundays ago. One started divine service by 10am and by noon, the members were outside the church hall. The second started by 10am and when I forced myself out by 2.30pm, three other items were outstanding. When I called the Bishop by 3pm, the church was still in session, good five hours after commencement! Ask the leaders and they have a ready justification: can’t you let go one day out of seven for the Maker? Simple survey should reveal that the membership of these first generation churches (other than the Roman Catholic) have thinned down. A handful of families keep such churches going because of family name.
- Economic realities. Churches are organizations and like other organizations must employ human and material resources to operate. And the cost of both increase by the hour. Service becomes a bore if the public address and musical systems are not in perfect, not just good form. Members can tolerate one service without electronics but not two or more. By the time the population thins so much the ministers cannot be paid, merger becomes an option. Churches at the margin are warming up to go.
- Demographics. Every church belongs to the youth group. The older generation manage the churches but what they do are oriented towards the younger generation. Wiser administrators therefore invest in youths. The churches which tailor services towards the older demographic – men in particular – are losing membership and are candidates for merger or outright extinction.
Nor should any wise man play down the role of women. In a typical church, women outnumber men sometimes two or more to one. The churches which limit (some exclude) women with respect to policy making and execution stand the danger of being swallowed by the smarter churches. Imagine that Saudi Arabia has finally allowed women to drive but some churches still disallow woman from even occasional preaching including Mothering Sunday. One of the Orthodox churches goes the extra mile – even during Sunday School, women cannot ask any question. If they have one, they should whisper to the husband! One must be baffled that such churches retain educated women.
- The vision/mission. Every church founder would quickly announce that ‘heaven’ is the vision while the mission includes things done to get more people there. But no one needs a diviner to declare that money is the primary thrust of most new generation churches. The radical drive for membership has to do with getting more money. A church which has not met the dream of the founder for money may simply make itself available for sale or merger. Several Orthodox church branches readily yield to juicy offers. Late in 2021 news went round that a General Overseer berated pastors who did not meet income-generation targets and threatened to sack them. We should expect more of such or mergers and acquisitions in the future. Church today is big business and therefore subject to rules and fall outs which operate in the business world. Or simply say it is the realities of change or evolution.