Churches across America are facing the same struggles: the share of self-identified Christians are continuing to decline and COVID restrictions are forcing some churches to permanently close. Amidst these problems, two congregations in North Carolina have decided to merge to survive the effects of the pandemic.
Hope Church in High Point and Renaissance Church in Jamestown, North Carolina are merging to keep their ministries alive. Pastors of both churches said they hope that they could serve as an example for other churches who are struggling with similar problems.
"We had a large building with a large mortgage, and there were bills to pay," Pastor Randall Reece, the founder of Hope Church that was established in 2003, told Fox 8. "So going from a church of 350 to a church of 80, the loss of income was significant. And even in the congregation of 80, some of the ones who were regularly giving really had to stop because they were impacted by COVID as well."
Pastor Reece remarked that the merging of the two North Carolina churches "certainly makes sense." He argued that Hope Church and Renaissance Church "can stay alone and struggle or come together in strength and merge out of the pandemic from a position of strength." He hopes they could be a "model" for other congregations facing similar situations as they are.
Renaissance Church's Pastor Jason Goins, who founded the congregation in 2008, remarked that he hopes that his friendship with Pastor Reece will help the merger of churches. He likened Pastor Reece to a "spiritual father" who helped him get involved in the ministry. Pastor Goins said, "It takes that relation equity. This is an opportunity for something great to come out of something that is a period of darkness for all of us."
The Christian Post reported that for Pastor Goins, the idea of merging with another church may be a difficult pill to swallow for some congregations. He shared that Renaissance Church was not struggling as much as Hope Church was, but they were definitely experiencing troubles as well. Pastor Goins said that the congregation came down to 150 people and that the churchgoers who remain are "excited and energized, so we're bringing together two pockets of two energized congregations."
The two pastors admitted they have had other local churches expressing interest in joining their merger as well. The first service as a merged church will take place on Sunday at 10 a.m. at Renaissance Church in Jamestown.
Problems with decreasing income and dwindling attendance caused other churches to make drastic changes. While some churches permanently closed as a result of the pandemic and accompanying government restrictions, some shifted to virtual services to cope.
A Colorado megachurch, The Potter's House of Denver, recently decided to let go of their church property and instead totally shift into virtual services. They were having problems with donations and made the decision to go fully online since they found it was working for them.
According to a Gallup poll released early in 2021, less than half of American respondents or about 49% said they have formal church membership, which was the lowest rate in 80 years. In 1937, 70% of Americans had a formal church membership.
The National Public Opinion Reference Survey conducted by Pew Research Center between May and August 2021 also showed that less than half or 45% of U.S. adults said they prayed daily, a decrease of 13 points from 2007. In 2014, up to 55% said they prayed daily.