Should small assemblies merge if that is geographically possible?
I cannot comment as to whether assemblies ‘should’ merge but that they ‘could’ do so is very evident in many areas. No one wants to be the person to make that final decision, none of us would happily volunteer to turn the key for the last time and there are many laudable reasons why we would be reticent to do so. Some will have served in that assembly for decades and poured their spiritual and physical energies into seeing the work maintained for the honour of the Lord.
Others will have fond memories of former days of blessing, maybe they themselves were saved there, and previous generations of their family helped fund and build the hall. Many might be disinclined to merge, as they believe it marks the end of the testimony in a locality. They may be the last form of collective witness in the area and, out of a concern for the folk in the vicinity of the hall, they are reluctant to see the lamp of testimony being extinguished. These, amongst other issues, are all factors which make it far from easy to contemplate merging with a neighbouring assembly. Unfortunately, there may be other reasons that prevent this happening which are not so commendable, not least of which is the issue of personality clashes or the unwillingness of some brethren to give up the controlling influence they have held over a long period of time.
In the years following the day of Pentecost the gospel spread far and wide from its roots in Jerusalem, and, as a result, churches were planted over a vast area, reaching as far as Rome, and possibly beyond, in the West. In the process of time things degenerated, as indicated by Paul to the elders of Ephesus, ‘For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock, Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them’, Acts 20. 29-30. Although God has never left Himself without witness, about 180 years ago there was a great recovery of church truth and the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries were characterized by an evangelical zeal in the UK and abroad. Many new assemblies were started and numerical growth was commonplace. Now those halcyon days are, in the main, behind us and assemblies are closing or dwindling to just a handful of elderly saints.
Some assemblies have reached a point where physically and financially it is a struggle to continue the work. They may hold a weekly gospel meeting but few if any ‘outsiders’ attend and the last time someone was saved and added to the fellowship has become a distant memory. The hall in which they meet is an added burden; it is too large and very costly to maintain and may need significant upgrading to make it legally compliant and presentable. In addition, the brother who invites speakers to take meetings finds it increasingly problematic because so many of them are themselves in small meetings and go out speaking only once every month or less.
Although it is a difficult situation, serious thought should be given to the possibility of merging with other assemblies. Instead of having several struggling fellowships in close proximity, there are definite spiritual, and financial, benefits in merging. The overheads of heating, lighting, and repair work are shared by a greater number of people, and halls no longer used can be sold and the funds can be channelled into the Lord’s work locally and much further afield. The larger company can enjoy the support and spiritual wisdom that the others bring, thereby enriching the contributions at the Lord’s Supper, the prayer meeting and other gatherings, and, with additional numbers, it may be possible to rekindle a positive gospel outreach. Rather than just one or two brethren having to shoulder the responsibility for all that takes place others might be able to help in this work, using their years of spiritual experience to the mutual encouragement of all. May we have the courage to overcome sentimentality, and be given grace to seriously seek the mind of the Lord on this issue.
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