Case Study Note: a church merger

After 24 years as pastor of an historic UCC congregation in downtown Pawtucket, I became pastor of a second UCC church in September 2006 in nearby Lincoln, RI. Both churches had long records of active, faithful service in northern RI. It is equally true that both churches were struggling with changing demographics, diminishing numbers and shrinking assets. In the absence of an intentional adjustment to changing conditions, both churches were facing the reality of institutional death in less than a decade. The first sign of a healthy resolve to sustain the life and ministry of both churches was the decision to share pastoral leadership. Just a few years before, neither church could have imagined this possibility.

In late 2009, the Pawtucket Congregational Church accepted the invitation of the Sayles Memorial Congregational Church to come under one roof on Chapel Street in Lincoln. Almost immediately, the two churches began to act as a single congregation with one pastor, one worship service, one church school, a United Diaconate and eventually a Joint Governing Board. Within a few months, there was serious conversation about and energy around the possibility of legal and ecclesiastical merger.

With the encouragement and support of my longtime friend Craig Lindell, I called for key leaders in both churches to come together for a daylong Strategic Dialogic Design experience led by Tom Flanagan and several of his colleagues. I can honestly say that this process, in combination with the ongoing conversation in our congregation, produced amazing insights that allowed us to focus on a few key issues in such a way that the two churches voted overwhelmingly 3½ months later to proceed with ecclesiastical and legal merger and to accept a new name – i.e. Chapel Street Congregational Church. You see, we learned as a result of the SDD process that deciding on a date to merge and naming the church were the two keys that would facilitate our merger process. In the end, we learned that these two insights were exactly right.

We are very grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in Strategic Dialogic Design and would recommend the process enthusiastically to any faith community that is trying to imagine what its future might look like.

The Rev. Dr. George E. Peters
Pastor & Teacher
Chapel Street Congregational Church (UCC)
185 Chapel Street, P. O. Box 366
Lincoln, RI 02865

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