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Harford County

Creswell church joins Mountain Christian in 'unusual' merger

Mountain Christian Church, which regularly draws up to 5,000 people to services at three sites around Harford County, just got a little bigger, for an unusual reason.

The Joppa church has taken under its wing another local church that was on the way to closing.


Creswell Christian Church, in financial decline for several years, left its building at Route 543 near Goat Hill Road and merged with Mountain Christian, leaders of the two congregations said.

It's fairly rare for a church to merge with another congregation instead of just folding, Mountain's pastor Ben Cachiaras said, noting that thousands of churches nationwide close each year.


VIDEO: Mountain Christian Church pastor Ben Cachiaras talks about the merger.

"It's very visionary and courageous, if you ask me," Cachiaras said about the decision made by Creswell's elders. "What they began to seek was ways they could leverage their legacy into the future and essentially could continue their mission, even if it looked different or was under a different banner."

"I love it because in a world with so much conflict and division, from Iraq to Ferguson, Mo., here is a case of two churches humbling themselves in order to come together in unity," Cachiaras said. "That is encouraging to me."

It helped that Creswell and Mountain had a similar theology, as well as a history of working together, their pastors said.

Creswell formally finished the merger last weekend, with its 30 to 40 members being welcomed at Mountain last Sunday morning.

"We just celebrated them and the contribution they have made as a church for 55 years, and then formally welcomed them into the Mountain family," Cachiaras said. "We showed a video which honored the past and explained the reasons for and benefit of the merger."

Creswell's congregation has been in Harford since 1959 but began declining in 2011, said pastor Eric Stangland, who came on board in 2010.

At its peak in the 1980s and 1990s, the church had about 100 people, he said.


"When you are a church that's small, you are usually relying on two or three families that are giving very generously," Stangland said, explaining that when those people left town, the church faced dire financial straits.

Despite its small size, Creswell regularly drew as many as 150 people to some of its events and kept up successful ministries, such as one at Church Creek Elementary School in Riverside, Stangland said.

The merger, he agreed, "is unusual, but, really, it came down to what is the best use of the resources God has given us."

"A lot of churches in our situation would ignore that and the church would dissipate," he said, explaining that would mean its assets end up "in the hands of a bank instead of the hands of the Kingdom [of God]."

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Stangland said it was "a difficult transition," as many families had deep roots in the congregation.

He expects Creswell's building to be put up for sale. In the meantime, Mountain has taken on Stangland as an employee and will help him get "rested and refreshed" as he considers his next step.


Members realized that joining Mountain would let Creswell continue to have an impact on the community, Stangland said.

The merger also "paints a beautiful picture of unity," he said. "This is also a statement of the power of God to unite people under a common purpose."

Cachiaras said the merger is not expected to overcrowd Mountain Christian services or its parking, noting some Creswell members might be choosing to attend Mountain's Bel Air site at The John Carroll School.

Besides its Joppa headquarters, Mountain also has a third location in Edgewood.

About the merger, Cachiaras added: "Churches have a life cycle, but you want to do whatever you can to leverage their legacy for the future."