church merger – the possibilities?

As some of you already know, Interbay Church – a ‘traditional’ and older church with a history of over 5o years has decided to move forward in the process to merge with Quest Church.  Quest is a young (average age about 26-27), urban, multiethnic, and emerging church.  It is not a stretch to say that Quest and Interbay are as different as they come.  And yet, we’re not as different.  Regardless, we had our first ‘transition team’ meeting last night.  Six reps from each church met for a few hours to go through the details of ‘what will this look like?”

While this is still exciting, last night’s meeting gave me a reality check that this will take a lot of work.  Please keep this in prayer if you feel inclined.  If you’re outside the Quest community, this ‘merger’ is important as I believe that many are looking at this merger and other examples of churches coming together.  This NEEDS to be taking place more regularly.  It saddens my heart to see church buildings being sold off to developers who bulldoze to build condos and highrises.  And it saddens me as well to see newer churchplants or emerging churches thinking – outwardly or inwardly – that they exist outside the larger historical church narrative.

Because I’ve received so many inquiries about this merger, I’m pasting a letter (with some omissions) I wrote on behalf of my leadership to Interbay Church.  This was written on January 11, 2006.  Much of this was written to try to convey to Interbay that Quest, despite its short church history, could be taken seriously.

Dear Interbay Leadership Team,  

…I am writing this letter to each of you to simply convey why I believe with great conviction, this is something that would not only profoundly bless both church communities but also impact our ability to serve the larger Kingdom.  It is not my intent to sound ominous, or to sing the praises of Quest or Interbay.  It is to convey the possibility that God can do so much more with us together. 

WHO ARE WE? | As many of you know, Quest started with a handful of people in our living room in early 2001.  We then met for a weekly bible study which changed into regular Sunday gatherings.  After several months of meeting in the University District, we relocated to the Interbay neighborhood and began renting the facilities at Interbay Covenant Church.   Through the grace of God, we share humbly a few of our recent blessings at Quest:

  • In the past year, the church has grown from 150 to nearly 400 people.  It also includes growth in the diversity of our congregation – ethnically, socioeconomically, and in age.
  • Our once non-existent children’s ministry has grown to 35 and we are currently expecting seven more babies in the coming six months. 
  •  There are over a dozen small groups that meet throughout the week all over Seattle.
  • Our church staff has grown to seven people including three full-time employees, four seminary trained staff, one ordained minister, and three others ready to start the ordination process with the ECC.  One of our pastors, Pastor Leah McCann, (missions pastor) is currently serving our church from Uganda for the next three months.  The café staff includes two regular staffers, four part-time baristas and over 20 volunteers.
  • The Q Café is making an impact in reaching out to our neighborhood and the larger city of Seattle.  Through classes, arts and live music, and great café space, we continue to serve an incredibly diverse group of people.
  • Through our Compassion and Justice Ministries, we continue to reach those outside the walls of the traditional church. The monthly homeless outreach, To the Streets, serves approximately 60-70 homeless men and women during each outreach.  In the past two years, Quest has ‘adopted’ and hosted four refugee families from Meshkitian Turk (Russia) and Somali Bantu. 

[…] Quest has been featured in the local papers several times including a front page article in the Seattle PI, in the March 2003 edition of The Companion, and Q Café was named one the top independent cafes in the Country in the July/August 2005 edition of Worthwhile Magazine. [ … ]  I share these things, not to boast of Quest or myself, but to simply convey that similarly to Interbay, God is bearing fruit at Quest!   

A BLENDING OF LEADERSHIP AND CULTURE | The vision for Interbay to ‘give itself’ to Quest is not a comfortable one.  But as we pray and discern God’s will together, I hope that Interbay Covenant Church understand that the church you give yourselves to are not strangers.  Not only are we, literally, neighbors, but also deeply connected together through our history.  If we jointly agree to this vision, I believe two aspects will make this transition much smoother:   

One, the leadership at Quest can be trusted.   The vision for Interbay to ‘give itself’ to Quest is not a whimsical thought or proposal.  It is based upon nearly four years of growing together.  Over the years, Quest leaders and members, despite its young age in comparison to Interbay, have demonstrated their maturity and stability.  Quest is not just another church.  It is a fellow thriving ECC church.  Although the leadership process may be more ‘centralized’ compared to the Interbay constitution, the Quest ‘leadership’ goes beyond our pastors and leader team members.  It also consists of the many small group ‘leaders’ that teach, lead, pray, and grow with their small groups.  During this year, it is also our priority to develop a deacon board.  The spiritual maturity and commitment of the pastors and leaders of Quest are evident. 

Two, we have a commitment to jointly establish a ‘Transition Team.’  The ‘transition team’ would help the two communities make wise decisions to ensure not only logistical and structural efficiency but more importantly, ensure care for the people of both congregations so that no one feels marginalized or left out.  It will be the duty of the ‘transition team’ to see that a deeper, healthier, and connected church community emerges through this change.  Although the Quest leadership will assume leadership, we hope to implement three things into the new Quest leadership:  1) ask [Interbay’s senior pastor] to join the staff as an associate pastor for a minimum of one year, 2) consider ways to integrate current Interbay staff onto staff as either paid or volunteer staff, and 3) ask some of the current Interbay leadership team members to join the Quest leadership as advisors to both our LT and our deacon board. It is clear that the cultural ethos of Quest and Interbay are different.  But that is precisely the beauty of this vision and what calls us to the table.  From the beginning, Quest has desired to embrace ‘the different.’  What started with just my wife and I, and then about thirty Korean-Americans that began renting your facility has now grown into a very diverse community bound together by our desire to make an impact in Seattle and beyond. 

STATUS QUO OR THE FUTURE | One can easily assess that nothing needs to be changed.  Quest can continue on our path and sooner than later, Quest will need to relocate again.  Interbay’s strength has been their deep history and stability.  That will not change in the next several years.  […] Recent statistics compiled from Seattle Times, the Seattle PI, and the Barna Report indicate a fast changing city, national, and global climate.  Are we ready?  Can we afford not to change? 

Did you know that the population of the greater Seattle metro area is roughly 1.7 million people; the population has grown by roughly 230,000 people between 1990 and 2000. Just between 2003-2005, 42,000 new immigrants moved into the Seattle area from other nations.  Seattle is also known for its rapid growth in the ‘younger population.’  In the five years between 1995-2000, over 27,000 people between 25-34 moved to Seattle.  And yet, many of us know that the Pacific Northwest is the most unchurched part of the United States.  Washington (33%) and Oregon (31%) are the two least unchurched U.S. states.  The 33% ‘church attendance’ include Catholic and Protestant churches, mosques, and synagogues.  Nationally, about 3,500 churches die and close each year.  Although the greater Seattle area population grew by roughly 230,000 between 1990-2000, only 134 churches were planted.  To keep pace with general population growth, 456 new churches needed to have been planted.  Nationally, there are 106 churches for every 100,000 people; in Seattle, there are only 66 churches for every 100,000.  Evangelical churches amongst those churches are few and far between. 

Discerning from our meeting and the atmosphere of our discussion in November, I can only assume that ‘the vision’ has been difficult to process and the momentum, if any, has met a standstill.  I can only speak from my heart; I am deeply burdened by my calling, the calling of Quest, the vision we share with the ECC, the statistics I share above, and the souls and lives that God calls us to speak good news to – both in this and future generations. Over 50 years ago, the early fathers and mothers of Interbay chose to take significant steps of faith and risk – and God has surely and clearly honored those steps of faith.  Although I believe Interbay can continue in its current course of ministry, I can only imagine, dream, and pray for the deeper impact that Quest and Interbay can make together.  Thanks for your time in reading this letter.  Please let me know if you have any additional thoughts, concerns, or questions.  God bless you. 

On Behalf of the Quest Leadership Team,

Rev. Eugene Cho

8 Replies to “church merger – the possibilities?”

  1. Eugene,
    Thanks for your willingness to step into this merger. I agree with you that it is not an option that is considered often enough, and I’m glad you are willing to forge into this territory. I pray that beauty will win out over depravity in this.

  2. thank you for sharing. i believe your letter was honest and hopeful. what a wonderful witness not only to outsiders, but to those within denominational structures, that merger is not only possible, but desirable.

    it would be great if you could keep us posted about your progress from time to time (if you’re able to do so). coming together and working through cultural and generational differences — these stories are inspiring (change is possible) and instructive (how might other communities come together despite their differences).

  3. Many blessings on this difficult but Kingdom-reflecting process. Being a member of the Interbay church, I know this is a new but very much needed beginning for both congregations. May the wisdom of the Lord be with all!

  4. Leonid: thanks for dropping by. Since we do believe the merger will take place – sooner than later – we look forward to learning how we can more deeply serve you and your family in your ministry in Russia.

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