Today I announced that after 6 months of discussions, Northminster’s leadership is recommending that we join forces with Atlee Community Church. If the congregation approves, we will merge with Atlee and become its Northminster Campus.
Atlee Community Church is no stranger to us. For almost 2 years we have been financial partners in the Advancement Center, a small jobs program for our Northside neighbors housed at Northminster.
I knew Atlee’s founding pastor, Chris Hembrough, when he was youth minister at Chamberlayne Baptist Church. When he told me about his plan to start a new church (with the help of Dover Baptist Association and the Virginia Baptist Mission Board) and to use drums, guitars and drama to appeal to seekers, I walked away thinking, “Chris has lost his mind!” This was 1995. Turns out he was crazy like a fox. Atlee has transformed thousands of lives over the last 18 years, and their creativity paved the way for contemporary styled churches in the Richmond area.
In 1997 when Northminster started our own contemporary worship service we visited seven congregations before patterning our service after what we had experienced at Atlee.
When people ask me, “Why a merger?” I offer two basic answers:
First, because we believe God is saying to our two churches, “You will be better together.” In his textbook on church mergers, Jim Tomberlin writes:
Most successful mergers today are mission-driven…. They occur when churches discern that their synergy could lead to a greater impact for the kingdom of God.
We believe that “missional” and “attractional” are not opposites but two sides of the same coin. Atlee’s strengths are attracting seekers to life-changing faith and building them into fully devoted followers of Christ. Northminster’s strength has been discovering and developing missions within it’s urban setting. We believe if our churches join forces, the kingdom of God will benefit.
Second, Northmister’s pastor of 27 years (that would be me) has been open about his intention to retire at the end of 2016 so that leaders can plan for a smooth transition. As we studied the options, merging with Atlee offered the strongest succession plan. Our new pastor, Jeff Boggess, would bring with him a community of 1500, a proven leadership ability, and a tested approach to evangelism and discipleship. Northminster is getting so much more than just a new pastor.
One of Northminster’s leaders described the advantages of merger this way:
As I have prayed for our church every day, I have become convinced that the work God wants done in this location far exceeds the capacity of our members. Merger means that God is sending the resources necessary to do the work God wants done here.
You can read about the merger in detail here.
What this means for me personally is that I will serve on the staff of Atlee Community Church through 2014 (and continue preaching Northminster’s traditional service), then I will retire a little earlier than I had expected. If you’re wondering, I think this is a very good thing!