Church mergers are a delicate business. It holds similarities with the blended families we find dotting the American landscape. Two "families" comprised of families must come together and live in harmony, becoming one "family." Eventually the "step" must be dropped so that the teen girl speaks of her "Dad" or "Mom" without the prefix. Brothers and sisters learn to share toys, rooms and TV watching. The two become one.
However, the analogy breaks down in that the blended family often followed the divorce of one or both spouses. For churches, no such negative catalyst is necessary. On the contrary, merging two like "families" can be quite strategically positive. If the cultures are similar enough, and the missions of both sufficiently agree, partnering for the success of the Great Commission can bring surprising glory to God.
One of the key sticking points can come down to a question of identity. Seldom can two "families" combine to create a third identity. In truth, it is far less problematic for one entity to take on the identity of the other, enhancing its culture and effectiveness. We also see this in marriage. Two adults do not both change their name following the wedding ceremony. Instead a name is taken by both that was previous owned by only one of them. I will use the analogy of my own marriage.
Prior to August 7th, 1993 Aaron Ott and Naomi Helm had dated off and on before finally becoming engaged to be married in October of 1992 (please don't think that speaking of myself in the third person is creepy). Between October and August they spent that time making preparations to "merge" their lives. Aaron was preparing to not only commemorate this "merger" with a ceremony, but was also preparing to integrate Naomi into every aspect of his life. Naomi was making similar preparations, but the difference was that she was losing something. Her previous identity as a "Helm" would be left behind by means of her adopting the new identity of an "Ott." Was she completely abandoning her character as a "Helm" when becoming an "Ott?" Not at all. On the contrary, she brought along her "Helm-ness" to enhance what it means to be an "Ott." While Naomi would indeed become an "Ott," Aaron would never again be an "Ott" as he once was due to how his "Ott-ness" would be enhanced by Naomi's integration into his life.
While Naomi took on Aaron's name, and followed his leadership, she nonetheless changed Aaron's life experience as well. It truly was a "merger" in that two became one, and it has worked well. This is my preferred analogy for churches that have a right view of merging. One may dissolve and be assimilated into the experience of the other, but the incoming one will doubtless affect the receiving one in many significant ways. Anymore than Naomi could expect to be a passive addition to my world, so also should a merging church expect to enhance the one receiving it. They both choose the name of one, but each is affected by the other.
This would seem the right mindset regarding church mergers. Marriage and churches have different motives though. The couple is motivated by covenantal love, while the church is motivated by the Great Commission. Nevertheless, both are sufficiently motivated to make it work no matter what. For the couple, the covenant is THAT important. For the church, the mission is THAT important. But both are beautiful to watch succeed.