Multi-Church Merger Honors Past, Positioned All for Pandemic
By Jaymie Dieterle
“We are four congregations in three locations in two states—but it’s one church.” This is how Pastor Jake Zaske describes Hope Chapel in the Kansas City metro area. Early in his tenure with Indian Creek Community Church in Olathe, Kansas, Jake found himself in conversations with two other congregations in the Kansas City area who were asking, “Could we be better together than we are apart?” In 2019, Indian Creek Community Church merged with New Life Family Church and Lakewood Way Community Church to form one new entity, Hope Chapel.
When people think of a church merger, they expect that one site will take over. Some of the staff might be absorbed, but the other facilities are often sold off for revenue. The anchor congregation attempts to serve all the people and communities that were served before, from just one site. But that is not the model used in Kansas City.
According to Jake, the philosophy at Indian Creek was that the merger would allow the smaller churches to “marry up to something larger to help them through a season and give us an opportunity to have a missional presence in that area of the city.” He emphasizes the importance of context for each of Hope Chapel’s sites. In each congregation’s history, people gave, sacrificed, and served in order to establish a gospel presence in that part of Kansas City. This merger honors that history by keeping all of the sites active while creating a system to support them.
Rather than three churches with full pastoral and administrative staff, as well as benefit plans, curriculum, worship resources, and insurance policies, Hope Chapel shares the costs of doing business. They are one church, one legal entity with three locations. They are able to negotiate better benefits for their staff because they have a larger pool of people than any of the churches would have had on their own. They can share administrative and bookkeeping personnel, as well as some of their specialized pastoral roles, which frees up resources so each site can maintain their individual facilities. They have developed eleven points of alignment that are uniform for the church as a whole, but each site’s ministry reflects the nuances necessary for their different contexts. Pastor Zaske emphasizes high accountability, but low control.
“Our structure is driven by what we would call local church leadership that is empowered to make contextual changes that are necessary to minister to the people of that community best. We believe in the prophetic voice. What is God saying in the moment to that community of people there in front of you?”
That means the team plans a shared teaching outline for all four congregations, but each site leader, including the pastor for the Spanish congregation at Hope Chapel: Olathe, prepares a message that fits the context of the location.
The timing for this merger couldn’t have been better. The ways of doing church during a global pandemic would have been difficult, if not impossible, for some of these congregations on their own. The financial situation for Hope Chapel is more stable, and more sustainable, during this season. The three sites can share resources and expertise for hosting virtual church services and facilitating online giving. And each location continues to provide food ministries and recovery communities that are essential to the neighborhoods they serve.
“There are a variety of reasons a congregation would do this,” Jake says about the merger. “We’re finding this is the best way of helping the gospel stay planted in the community. We have 170 years of combined ministry in Kansas City. We are honoring the past but with a fresh vision for today.”
Pastors who are interested in hearing more about Hope Chapel’s journey can reach out to Pastor Jake Zaske at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jaymie Dieterle is a freelance writer with a passion for books, reading, and life-long learning. She enjoys writing adult small group and Sunday school curriculum for Warner Press. Jaymie and her family live in Anderson, Indiana, and they are actively involved at Madison Park Church of God.
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.