Eugene Cho

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

Filed under: christianity, church, emerging church, quest church

8 Responses

  1. Reyes-Chow says:

    what a thoughtful letter and interesting model for others churches.

  2. 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.

  3. daniel so says:

    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).

  4. Leonid Regheta says:

    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!

  5. e cho says:

    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.

  6. Thanks, Pastor Eugene. Looking forward to getting your coming updates and hearing from you about possible ways of working with the Quest.

  7. […] learned that we’ll be having our first Interbay and Quest marriage.  This couple took the ‘church merger’ way too literally.  🙂  Like any community, we have seen our share of both incredibly beautiful […]

  8. […] it stayed there for a long time and eventually, with support from the respective leadership, was posed to the larger church communities for dialogue, prayer, and conversation this past year+.  Click here to read the full […]

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One Day’s Wages

My Instagram

Father, please bless and protect these Iraqi and Syrian "refugee" children that have already endured so much. Protect their hearts and mind from unfathomable trauma. Plant seeds of hope and vision in their lives. And as we pray for them, teach us how to advocate for them. Amen. "We don't call them refugees. We call them relatives. We don't call them camps but centers. Dignity is so important." -  local Iraqi priest whose church has welcomed many "relatives" to their church's property

It's always a privilege to be invited into peoples' home for tea - even if it's a temporary tent. This is an extended Yezidi family that fled the Mosul, Iraq area because of ISIS. It's indeed true that Christians were targeted by ISIS and thatbstory muat be shared but other minority groups like the Yezidis were also targeted. Some of their heartbreaking stories included the kidnapping of their sister. They shared that their father passed away shortly of a "broken heart." The conversation was emotional but afterwards, we asked each other for permission to take photos. Once the selfies came out, the real smiles came out.

So friends: Pray for Iraq. Pray for the persecuted Church. Pray for Christians, minority groups like the Yezidis who fear they will e completely wiped out in the Middle East,, and Muslims alike who are all suffering under ISIS. Friends: I'm traveling in the Middle East this week - Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. (Make sure you follow my pics/stories on IG stories). Specifically, I'm here representing @onedayswages to meet, learn, and listen to pastors, local leaders, NGOs, and of course directly from refugees from within these countries - including many from Syria.

For security purposes, I haven't been able to share at all but I'm now able to start sharing some photos and stories. For now, I'll be sharing numerous photos through my IG stories and will be sharing some longer written pieces in couple months when ODW launches another wave of partnerships to come alongside refugees in these areas. Four of us are traveling together also for the purpose of creating a short documentary that we hope to release early next year.

While I'm on my church sabbatical, it's truly a privilege to be able to come to these countries and to meet local pastors and indigenous leaders that tirelessly pursue peace and justice, and to hear directly from refugees. I've read so many various articles and pieces over the years and I thought I was prepared but it has been jarring, heartbreaking,  and gut wrenching. In the midst of such chaos, there's hope but there's also a lot of questions, too.

I hope you follow along as I share photos, stories, and help release this mini-documentary. Please tag friends that might be interested.

Please pray for safety, for empathy, for humility and integrity, for divine meetings. Pray that we listen well; To be present and not just be a consumer of these vulnerable stories. That's my biggest prayer.

Special thanks to @worldvisionusa and @worldrelief for hosting us on this journey. 9/11
Never forget.
And never stop working for peace.

Today, I had some gut wrenching and heart breaking conversations about war, violence, and peacemaking. Mostly, I listened. Never in my wildest imagination did I envision having these conversations on 9/11 of all days. I wish I could share more now but I hope to later after I process them for a few days.

But indeed: Never forget.
And never stop working for peace.
May it be so. Amen. Mount Rainier is simply epic. There's nothing like flying in and out of Seattle.

#northwestisbest Took a train to Busan. Did not encounter any zombies but I was ready just in case.

Busan. First visit to this city (couple weeks ago) and was blown away by its beauty. Also, shocked that it has become the fifth largest containment port city in the world. That's a lot of import and export.

#Pusan #SouthKorea

my tweets

  • Don't underestimate what God can do through you. God has a very long history of using foolish and broken people for His purposes and glory. || 22 hours ago
  • Father, bless these Iraqi and Syrian refugee children that have already endured so much. As we pray, teach us how t…… || 2 days ago
  • Pray for Iraq. Pray for persecuted Church, minority groups (Yezidis) and Muslims alike who are suffering under ISIS: || 2 days ago
  • "We don't call them refugees. We call them relatives. We don't call them camps but centers. Dignity is so important." - a local Iraqi priest || 3 days ago
  • I've been traveling through Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan. Meeting local pastors/leaders, NGOs, and refugees. Join us on IG…… || 3 days ago
  • Seeking justice is part of our discipleship. In other words, seek justice not just to change the world...but to be changed more like Christ. || 6 days ago