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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Church splits typically originate from power groups in the church. True.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Some churches still split over doctrinal issues. Certainly.
- 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.