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Analyzing Church Splits

Thom Rainer of LifeWay recently wrote an article on church splits.  Fascinating article.  I have great respect for Rainer, and I would like to add my insight to his conclusions.  A pastor for 37 years, I have had the opportunity to analyze the effect of church splits firsthand or from a distance.  As a pastor I have actually accepted the call to rebuild no less than five different churches following church splits.  All five survived.  Two have struggled for years.  One is doing fair.  Two are prospering greatly.  So, let me add my insight to the nine conclusions of this article.

  1. A church that has split is likely to die. Not always true. Many churches survive church splits.  Most struggle – but they do live on.  A few prosper.  Usually their success depends on the reason for the church split – plus the following leadership.  When people oppose God’s man and the work of the gospel, they usually fizzle.  But when they are on a mission for the right cause, they sometimes prosper.  Dr. Jerry Falwell’s famous Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA, was founded through a church split.  A friend of mine is from a mega-church in Minnesota which originally formed through a church split.
  2. The negative community impact of a church split is great and enduring. Usually very true. It can take 15 years for a church to recover from a major church split in a smaller community.  Typically it takes five years.  However, years ago, Pastor Al Runge took a church split (those who remained behind) in Omaha, Nebraska, and rebuilt it into an even larger church of 1,000-plus.
  3. The majority of church splits focus on the pastor. True. All five churches I have served, which had split before I arrived, did so over the previous pastor.  And Rainer is absolutely correct in saying that a pastor may never fully get over a church split.
  4. Church splits typically originate from power groups in the church. True.
  5. Some church members have actually been a part of several church splits. True. We took a troublesome deacon into our church once. He had caused trouble at previous churches.  But I was young and sure I could work with him.  It was not long before he was in the middle of stirring up trouble at our church.
  6. Church splits are typically preceded by inactive church members becoming active members. True. Trouble-makers stir up and re-invigorate inactive members to come in and join the opposition.
  7. Church splits are more likely to occur in “country club” churches. Probably true. But when it comes to power groups and opposing the pastor, a split can happen in any kind of church.  One of the greatest churches in South Florida split recently.
  8. Some churches still split over doctrinal issues. Certainly.
  9. Some churches still split over financial issues. Absolutely.

I agree with Rainer that there are (normally) no winners in church splits.  They damage the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ, and they damage many who are involved in them or victimized by them.

Pastor Jim


Keeping Church Visitors (Part 2)

Last week we looked at the first 5 of 10 reasons from a recent survey as to why people do not return to a church after visiting it.  The information came from an article by Thom Rainer of LifeWay.  Very interesting survey.  Here are reasons 6 through 10 – why people do not return to a church they visit.

  1. Poor signage. I do not doubt this at all. Churches are notorious for not letting people know who they are and where they are.  We have a sharp, first-class sign in front of our main building.  But around the corner on the side of our large property sits our Youth Building, which we have nicknamed the Power Plant.  It is the former sanctuary before the new building was erected.  Believe it or not, the old building has no sign.  An acquaintance of mine has been attending one of our support groups held in the youth building one night per week.  She knows I am a pastor, but she did not know where.  I asked her where she was attending the support group.  She described the location.  It was at our church!  But she did not know what church she was attending.  She was coming to First Baptist Church and did not even know it – because we have no sign on that side of the property.  As soon as we can, we are going to put up a sign which identifies the building as being part of First Baptist Church.
  2. Insider church language. I have noticed this for years. We get up in church and make announcements – assuming that everyone knows what we are talking about.  That is a mistake, which leaves visitors confused.  I always strive to make announcements assuming people are listening who know nothing about the announcement.  I try not to use “insider” church language.  We want visitors, unchurched, searching for faith, etc.  So, let’s communicate with them.
  3. Boring or bad service. This is vital. Both in preaching and in music we must strive to be relevant and “connecting” with people who live in our current culture.
  4. Members telling guests they are in their seat or pew. I have actually seen this happen! I always try to educate our church members not to make that mistake.
  5. Dirty facilities. I have seen this – where the faithful members of the church keep the main sanctuary sharp and clean, but they sometimes ignore the restrooms, nursery and children’s area. This will not bring back families – especially those who use such areas.

Interesting.  Much of this is simply common sense.  We need to look at our church through the eyes of a visitor and strive to do everything first-class!

Pastor Jim

Keeping Church Visitors

Thom Rainer of LifeWay came out with a recent article on the 10 primary reasons church visitors do not return to a particular church after visiting — all based on a recent survey of church visitors.  I found the article fascinating.  Some of the reasons I have observed — and tried to correct — for years.  Others I found surprising.  Let’s review the first 5 this week, and then the last 5 next week.

1. The No. 1 reason people do not return to a church, according to the survey, is when the church has a stand-up-and-greet-the-visitors time during the worship service.  I not only found this surprising, as Dr. Rainer did, but I believe it is a misunderstanding.  I have always felt that visitors do not like to be singled out — where the visitor is asked to stand; or the church members all stand, while the visitors remain seated.  People do not like that.  I don’t like that when I visit a church.  But I believe that is the way the survey must have been interpreted.  Otherwise, I don’t think visitors mind at all a hand-shake moment while everyone is standing.

2. Unfriendly church members.  We strive to avoid this all the time.  I think too often church members become “self-centered” and pre-0ccupied, rather than reaching out to introduce themselves to visitors.  The best way, of course, is to introduce yourself, rather than asking, “And who are you?”  LOL.  That happened to me once — and I was the visiting candidate to become the new pastor.  A ministerial staff member — rather than introducing herself, said to me, “And who are you?”  I kid you not.

3. Unsafe or unclean children’s areas.  I have seen this happen.  Very important.  Sometimes during an interim period (between pastors), older members hold the church together — but they may tend to neglect the children’s area (since they are not over there — having no children of their own anymore).

4. No place to get information.  No problem at our church.  We have a central welcome center in the main lobby, plus a website, etc.  But I have seen it where this was a problem.

5. Bad church website.  This is surprisingly common.  Too often a church website will list previous staff members, no listing of new staff members, old calendars, out-dated info, etc.  At our church we have worked diligently to bring our website up-to-date and keep it current.  In this day and age, I am far more interested in having accessible and accurate info on a website, than on signs on the doors or on the street.  Most people today will check what time services are scheduled by going to the website.

Interesting insights!  We’ll look at Nos. 6 through 10 next week.

Pastor Jim