Over the years, our Lawless Group church consulting team has worked with many churches that have recently endured a “church split.” Sometimes the division results in more than one congregation, but sometimes the same church simply exists in a divided state.
What we’ve learned is the no division happens overnight; every one has some kind of previous problem that no one addressed. To help you evaluate your church’s possibility of division, here are some of those warning signs:
- Unresolved, but hidden, anger over a past church issue. I’m amazed by how many times we’ve talked with church members who are angry over things that happened years, if not decades, ago. On the outside it looks like they’ve “gotten over it”; but when our team gives them opportunity to talk, the volcano erupts.
- Bitterness among members. I don’t understand it, but I’ve surely seen it: members who are so bitter at each other that they’ll change small groups, intentionally sit on opposite sides of the worship center, and avoid each other on the Lord’s Day. It’s crazy, actually….
- Turf wars. Look around to see who in the church is protecting something. The ministry group that refuses to change meeting places. The bad leader who threatens to create a ruckus if you really ask him to step down. The leadership team that rebels against sharing any of their power. The more entrenched people are in their roles, the more likely the church faces division when changes are needed.
- Rigid small groups. By “rigid,” I mean small groups that are unwilling to change, are quite comfortable with their current fellowship, are unwelcoming (although seldom intentionally) to guests, and are often “doing their own thing.” In essence, they’ve become their own little church. That’s division.
- Unchanging lay leadership. When the primary lay leadership of the church (deacons, teachers, etc.) has not changed in years, the church may be developing an “us vs. them” or “older folks vs. newer folks” division. Eventually, the folks left out will sit in apathy or attend elsewhere.
- Parking lot and hallway meetings. The conversations may be quiet ones, but they’re not unnoticed. Even “secret” meetings are seldom secret for long. Frustrated members who meet behind the scenes (even those who in the long run take a right position) are only fostering division.
- Fewer guests attending. I can show you this trend in many churches: when a church is on the verge of conflict, its members stop inviting others. Unless the church is simply in an exploding area where newcomers visit regularly, the number of guests naturally decreases when division begins to bubble up in a church.
- Fewer fellowship events. The happy church plans times to hang out together because they genuinely enjoy being together. Those events tend to decrease in number (and certainly in attendance) when inner turmoil is developing.
What other warning signs would you add to this list?