Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In a church merger, the lead church has to be able to understand what it is like to be a pastor, board member or part of the congregation of a church that for 30, 40 or more years was a thriving, growing church, but is now for whatever reasons is struggling.
To have genuine empathy, it doesn’t matter what the reason is for the decline. Empathy does not point out the flaws or mismanagement or how things should have been done better. It sees the church member who 30 years ago wrote the check for the sign out front. A sign that is inevitably going to be removed and replaced. It acknowledges that it may hurt and feel like a part of that person is being removed and replaced. Empathy enters into that place of sadness and hurt to listen, console, pray, and encourage them. It is in that space that strong, trusting relationships are built. It is because of the newly formed trust that the members will be more open to change and will more easily be lead into the new future of the church.
As the lead church empathized with the follow church, members know that they are seen, heard, and will be well taken care of. This will take time. Empathy goes at its own pace. If it is forced or rushed, it will be seen as inauthentic and will kill the merger and the lead church’s reputation – every time.