Two multi-site churches in southern California are calling each other family.
They're in different locations and of different denominations, but they consider themselves "one church."
New Hope South Bay and Newsong merged last summer to form a unique partnership. Though New Hope – a multi-site church with two campuses – essentially went under the umbrella of Newsong to become one of Newsong's multi-site campuses, the merger has involved little change in terms of governance and structure.
New Hope has kept it name, denominational status in the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, indigenous identity and leadership. The only thing new is that they gained a larger family to work with.
"Newsong is a great global ministry that we can learn from as well as journey through life with," said New Hope lead pastor Charles Lee, according to Leadership Network. "They really came to us with an open hand because they wanted New Hope to be a part of the formation of what multi-sites may look like in the future."
The number of multi-sites – one church in multiple locations – has jumped from 300 to some 3,000 over the past decade. Many houses of worship have approached the phenomenon in creative ways, launching Internet campuses and international sites.
Newsong Church, a 15-year-old nondenominational church, has eight campuses in California, Texas, Mexico, the United Kingdom, India and Bangkok but the sites don't necessarily have to be in the same denomination.
As Lee of New Hope explained, Newsong's campuses are independent entities – separate 501(c)(3)'s. But what connects them is the commitment to be one church in which they share resources, networks, projects and life.
"Every site of their 'church' is all indigenous to whatever work they're doing," Lee said last summer when he detailed the merger to his congregation. Newsong's London campus meets in pubs and clubs and the church in Mexico City focuses on justice.
New Hope's key focus areas are justice and compassion. Lee hopes they can be an extension of Newsong in those areas as well as serve as a point of inspiration for some of Newsong's work.
"We're being invited to enter a covenant relationship," Lee explained. "They're saying 'let's partner together.' They've invited us to help form the future of Newsong."
Newsong and New Hope have worked together for years but the recent merger solidified the relationship, Lee said.
"We weren't so much looking to ... be a part of a larger church per se. We were looking for, at some level, a covering and a network that we can be a part of."
"We're creating something right now where our kids would think about it so differently than us. How many of you grew up in a church that even looks like this?" Lee noted.
Church mergers are rare, according to Warren Bird, co-author of A Multi-Site Church Road Trip. "Church mergers involving multi-sites are even more rare. And cross-denominational mergers within one multi-site church are rarer still," he told The Christian Post.
But Bird's been seeing an unprecedented amount of cross-denominational cooperation lately, from efforts of feeding the hungry to the training of church planters. While informal cooperative partnerships across denominations are on the rise, Bird believes that they'll likely remain on the level of an amiable partnership and not turn into formal ties.
For New Hope and Newsong, it wasn't a difficult transition considering the merger was rooted in relationship. They've agreed to live life together relationally, as Lee described it.
Though New Hope is preserving its overall identity, Lee reminded congregants that "it's not about our church."
"We're not here to build a legacy for ourselves," he said. "We're here to simply follow obediently the call of Jesus that He's given our church."
New Hope was launched in March 2006 at a movie theater in Redondo Beach, Calif. It added a second campus near downtown Los Angeles in 2008.