2 Healthy Churches Merge for Bigger Impact in Ariz.

Church mergers mostly involve one healthy church saving a dying one. But in Arizona, two growing congregations are coming together for the purpose of creating a greater impact.

East Valley Bible Church and Praxis Church – just 12 miles apart in Gilbert and Tempe, respectively – have decided to merge to form Redemption Church. The official launch date for Redemption is January 9, 2011.

"[W]e've felt God's strong call to come together for the good of his Kingdom," church leaders say on their website. "By doing so, we have faith that more people throughout Arizona will be changed by the Gospel."

The decision for a merger was made this past summer.

Tom Shrader, pastor of teaching at East Valley Bible Church, admitted that not many people would "dissolve" what they're doing to create a new identity.

His church certainly didn't need to.

Founded in 1991, EVBC experienced growth from the very beginning though Shrader and his team knew little about starting a church.

"None of knew anything. That's not an exaggeration," Shrader said.

After growing to 450, the church built a large facility and saw 900 people attend on the opening day of the new church building.

"God just blessed it," the preaching pastor said. His church currently draws some 4,000 people.

Praxis Church, meanwhile, had a less than glamorous start. Established in 2004, the church began in a living room and grew from 10 to only 15 the first year.

It was painful for Justin Anderson, lead pastor of Praxis. He had come from a large church in San Diego, Calif., where everything they did "turned to gold," he said.

He met Shrader who provided guidance and help over the next few years. Today, Praxis is a healthy, growing church.

Explaining why the two churches decided to merge, Anderson said they had a hunch that "this alliance will create opportunities that will benefit the cities and other churches."

Both Anderson and Shrader have held onto a vision of having an influence beyond their individual campuses.

Shrader put it this way: "We're not trying to be a megachurch. We're trying to be a denomination [in the sense that] we wanted to be an influence beyond the campus ... [and] generation."

He added, "It's not just us thinking about our own churches but the kingdom. I think that's a really powerful motive."

The vision of Redemption Church is to saturate the state of Arizona with Gospel-centered, Reformed, missional churches through missions and church plants.

Emphasizing Redemption Church's unwavering commitment to the Gospel, Anderson said, "It is the promise of the Gospel, that Jesus' work on the cross when applied to every aspect of our lives ... can really change everything."

"The beauty of the Gospel is that it's redemptive ... of who we are," he said. "Our mission is to make disciples who in response to the Gospel seek to redeem all of life for the glory of God."