This short article was written by Dr. Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of Life Way Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, and it highlights some painful truths about the issue of churches breaking up. It also holds the party that initiates the split accountable:
“A new church is started in a community with many members of an existing church. Unfortunately, the existing church has not blessed the new church start, nor has it been consulted about it. In many cases, a staff member from the existing church has led the unfriendly church start.
I have emails that include phrases like “deep hurt,” “betrayal,” and “kick in the stomach.” In other words, this new church start has not been received well at all by the existing church. I understand that there are two sides to these stories, so I am ready to be corrected. Nevertheless, I have some strong opinions about unfriendly church starts. Allow me to share four of them.
1. The DNA of the new church is a problem. In most unfriendly church starts, the new church is a negative reaction to the existing church. Thus, the very reason for the existence of the new church has negative overtones. The DNA is, at least in part, filled with negativity.
2. Ill will is immediately established between two churches. There is the perception that members were wrongfully taken from one church. Often the existing church feels the immediate pain of loss of people, finances, and leaders. They simply did not have time to plan to replace those who would leave.
3. The new church begins with a potential negative reputation in the community. The church is the congregation that “split” or “took members” or “fought” with the existing church. Those words do not enhance the reputation of a church that is trying to reach its community.
4. Reconciliation must begin with the new church. At some point, the chasm between the two congregations must be bridged. In most cases the new church should initiate that effort, especially since it started without the blessing or knowledge of the existing church.
A few years ago I spoke with a young associate pastor who told me that he had been approached by a large group in the church that wanted him to lead a split and start of a new church. Even though there seemed to be serious problems in the existing church, he refused to make such a move. When I asked him why he was not seizing the opportunity, his response was telling: “God called me here to honor this pastor as long as I am here. There are a lot of problems that I see in the church, but starting a new church is just not the answer. It’s just not the right thing to do.”
I agree. It’s just not the right thing to do.”
I have seen quite a few church splits & have joined the people leaving the original congregation. For most of these, however, I was just a child following the decision of my parents.
My question to you is: what if the “hierarchy” of control in a church is not willing to meet the needs of its members? When is it “ok” for them to stand up to an overwhelmingly wrong mind set & respectfully “split.”
I ask because of an experience with a very strict & controlling church long ago. A group of people who took advantage of their generous congregation, ultimately alienating themselves to a small number of pridefully humble constituents.
Thanks for the question Gia, it is very good. I think Rainer makes very good points in the article, but I think he refers mostly to mainstream churches where division is over practice and possible some doctrine.
When we get into a situation where church leadership promotes unsound teaching, unsound practice, intervenes in private lives of members in an unrequested, obtrusive way (the way you characterized as strict and controlling), the situation is completely different. We are now dealing with an unhealthy and unbiblical scenario.
Especially when a very large portion of the congregation is suffering.
I continue to hold that the first course of action is some discussion, change and reconciliation. If that is not possible, then adhering to another existing church is a possibility for a portion of the members. If that is not possible, the only alternative left is starting a new congregation in order to maintain biblical standards.
Such situations are rare and I am perhaps aware of only one.
Most splits (like a recent one I am aware of which was a 50% split) occur over things like “vision” and NOT doctrine or biblical aspect of practice. I am very disheartened and completely against those types. 😦
I admit, I don’t know all the facts & having moved back to CA after living in Seattle for many years, I attend a church I feel very welcomed in. We are a group, as you know, “split” from another congregation.
It is indeed sad when the body of Christ cannot grow together, whatever the reasons.
I agree with you on the circumstances when splitting is truly the best option..but find it hard to swallow the message I hear so often from our pulpits of “growing the congregation,” when we can’t unite the few that make up our separate churches.
Yes… but… I tend to be an optimist… I look at the bright side: we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we are destined to inherit the Kingdom!
Until then, just like the whole creation groans (Romans 8), we are subject to our fallen limitations which we daily work to mortify by the power of the Spirit (Romans 8) 🙂
Amen fellow optimist! 🙂