thoughts-on-unfriendly-church-starts

This issue is not new, but it does seem to be one gaining more attention. 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.


Pastor to Pastor is the Saturday blog series at ThomRainer.com. Pastors and staff, if we can help in any way, contact Steve Drake, our director of pastoral relations, at Steve.Drake@LifeWay.com. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.

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Comments

  1. says

    I loved this list, and I think they’re all true. While I think #4 is important, I’ve never seen nor have I heard of it happening. If you have any stories of it occurring, I would love to hear them, as I’m sure they would be both fascinating and educational.

    I loved the remarks you closed with by the young AP. I Wish more “second in command” pastors were more loyal to their SP’s, as I have no doubt their churches would be stronger for it.

    Thanks for the list, Dr. Rainer.

    • says

      If I may add…our little local church went from 20 people to 90 then back to 20 within a period of 10 years. It seemed as if the more people we had, the more diverse we needed to be. For example, we used to be satisfied, or should I say content, with piano and hymns. Then as more people came we needed praise music. Then a band. Then this and then that. All this is fine but the problem was that even though we grew in numbers, the finances didn’t get much better. We needed more material, equipment and so on. Well, as people became unsatisfied, they started dropping off. Some because they didn’t enjoy the service any more and some because they didn’t think the Pastor was putting in the effort he did when he first came to us. Both is probably true. I said that to say this…Our church didn’t need to split to do damage to us. We believe we are victims of the new cultural America, where God takes a position far down the line to many other things in this life.

      • says

        I have seen this happen as well, Brother Neal. I can’t help but think the situation you’re describing is the result of the “me first” attitude we have in America. Christians are no longer content with going to church to focus on Christ, but instead go to church to see if that church will focus on them. I can’t help but think that unless we do what 2 Chronicles 7:14 says that it won’t be changing any time soon.

        God bless you, Sir.

  2. Steve Drake says

    I agree with Tom. Dr. Rainer, I am certain you have hit a nerve that many, if not most pastors and churches have had to deal with. To say these kinds of splits are sinnful may not be a stretch. Mattnew 5:23 -24 speaks of being reconciled with a brother before you come to worship God. If a church needs a split, if there are reasons to devide, let the principles come together and find a way to bless one another in a church plant. The church splits I have seen seem intended more to hurt the other group than begin a new work for the glory of God. In John 17:21 Jesus prays that we might be one in Him so that the world might believe. We don’t have to be together; we don’t have to worship the same way as every other congregation; but we must be one, if the world is to believe.

  3. says

    Thom, this is a post that needed to be written, and needs to be widely read.

    I call these unfriendly church starts “Vengeful Church Plants”, because there is often an undercurrent of revenge against the established church.

    What makes these especially tough to deal with, is that often these pioneers couch their endeavor with language like “God has called me to start this church”. But the reality is, I believe if the “DNA”, as you describe it, is poisoned from the start, chances are God had nothing to do with it.

  4. Randal says

    Sometimes I feel that “The Church” and “A Church” are confused with one another in scripture references, especially with emotionally charged topics like this. God’s voice may discount everything that logic lays out.

  5. Jenni Baier says

    In cases where the new church plant is almost entirely composed of (now former) members of an existing church, I agree with your points. Unfortunately, there are some folks who are just divisive and controlling, and they’ll use (or create) disagreements within a church to build their own followings. It’s also been my experience that churches like that (or, at least, leaders like that) don’t last long.

    But I’d like to add two other thoughts to the discussion:

    1- Not every church plant is the result of split, even if that plant winds up attracting a lot of (now former) members of an existing church. But it sounds more “spiritual” for a pastor who is losing members to cry “church split” — which implies forces working against him — than to admit that his church may have problems of his own making. Pastors who are bitter over former members will also tend to leave a bad taste in the mouth of potential new members.

    2- Not every church split results in a new church plant. Groups of “split” folks also join other existing churches. And some of them give up on church entirely. Even if no one ever started an “unfriendly church start” again, that would not cure the underlying issues that caused people to want to leave the existing church in the first place.

    • says

      To add to your first point, my husband and I experienced this at the first church he pastored. A missionary with good intentions had started a work in a town/area that already had 20-30 Baptist churches, some of which were like faith. There really was not a need for the church. The result was that the church started with mostly disgruntled and unhappy church members (or church hoppers) from surrounding churches. Just as bad of a bad DNA to start with as it is with these “Vengeful Church Plants”.

  6. Brad says

    Jenni your analysis is right on.

    Thom thanks for bringing this up. One problem though. It doesn’t have to be a significant number of people from an existing Church to really upset already established churches. A single high income earner that tithes is enough. Just saying. :)

  7. John A. says

    I like the idea of asking for the blessing of the established church, but I don’t see that as always feasible, considering what you recognized, that there are two sides to the issue. Here’s my story.

    I was the pastor for a small mission church, until I and my family was jolted one Sunday with a letter by a deacon, withdrawing his support for me and demanding for my resignation in 48 hours due to my “preaching” and “leadership” style. He was the lone signatory on the letter but claimed that he has the “support of the church,” which is mostly those who started the church, consisting of about five families. This happened of all times, right after I gave a sermon on James 3, about being careful about what we speak of, for once we do, we no longer have control over it on how people will take them.

    Having no prior knowledge of this demand for my resignation from the church, I was shocked. It was never taken into a Church business meeting and never presented according to the church By-laws, with all the members informed to participate. When I asked around who supported this deacon’s demand, I found out that half of the members did not agree with him, including two of the three men that he was training to become deacons.

    As I pleaded with him in our succeeding meeting, I warned him that if we do not reconcile, the church will be split. But he did not agree. He was as unrepentant when a few leading members confronted him in a meeting over the scheming manner in which he gathered support, talking behind my back and ignoring proper procedures and expectations. With him having already divided the church, and for violating our Constitution and By-laws, I found no other reason to keep ministering with this deacon and his group. I would rather start anew than to rebuild with the same broken structure with them. So I resigned from my position.

    What is sad is that half of the church suddenly found themselves without a church. Some resigned from their membership, and everyone getting discouraged. They felt “betrayed,” “deeply hurt” and “stabbed in the back” by this deacon and half of the existing church which has been talking negative things, doing pastor-bashing to justify their position.

    This weekend will be the fourth Sunday that the dechurched families of no less than 25 people, including children, has been going from church to church, trying to honor and worship the Lord in churches they never knew before. Now, please tell me if it’s wrong for them to start a new church with those whom they can trust to do the right thing.

    The way I see it, it’s the right thing to do.

    • Thom Rainer says

      John A. –

      Your story is a reminder that one perspective is rarely the only perspective. Thanks for the courage to share, despite the pain it likely rekindled.

    • says

      Was it not possible for you and the 25 “dechurched” members to discipline the deacon and his cohorts, forcing them to find a new church?

      With that said, it sounds like this situation is definitely one where the “split” is entitled to start another church, assuming they receive Scriptural authority.

      Even though I don’t know you, I’m sorry you went through this and I hope that you will not let this situation prevent you from moving forward with your ministry.

  8. Steve says

    I disagree with the fourth point. Sometimes, these “unfriendly church starts” are as much the fault of the old church as the new, either from refusing to give blessing for a new church start. Even if it is a group of malcontents, someone needs to be a grown-up and build the bridge. It is sinful for either side to remain unfriendly to the other, so as long as either side is NOT extending a hand of reconciliation, they are in sin. You can dowse a lot of water on a situation like that by once the process of a new chruch start has become, changing it from a sneaky action to a blessed action through a public blessing of the new church. Sometimes, there really is something ugly going on that can’t be helped, but I don’t think that’s usually the case. New church starts are usually a good thing and will reach more people than one church would. Blessing the church as it forms and the old members as they leave is the best course of action, in my opinion.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Steve –

      Well stated. I can’t disagree that both parties have the responsibility of reconciliation. That is certainly the biblical perspective.

    • Jason says

      I’m with Steve on this one. I personally have never seen a group of “bad-guy” malcontents leave and start another church. I do know that a couple of the churches in my local association started that way… back in the 1970s.

      What I have observed is a trend where established churches are not reaching people for Christ. They are running with a mentality that with the right programs, people will leave thier churches and join theirs… and new believers will trickle in as well because they want to be a part of a “healthy and friendly church.” The problem is neither of these things happen.

      In my area, that’s why some of our churches will not start Spanish services, but actually think they are reaching into the 70+% of the local community just becasue they have a few token Hispanics in the congregation. Please understand, I have been told “no, we’re not interested” when I have offered to help start this… including recruiting a bi-lingual mission minded pastor… who would be willing to serve with no salary.

      So you see, the only negative I have seen in my adult life came from “parent churches.” The negative reputation comes with being in a relationship with the parent church.

  9. Dennis Hesselbarth says

    This whole discussion touches on what is clearly a central Kingdom tenet – the priority of unity and one another love. That is our primary witness, is it not? How can a new church launch without reconciliation, and expect God’s blessing? The community ought to view it with suspicion.

    That doesn’t mean everyone has to be excited about or even agree with a new plant, but at minimum there ought to be mutual respect and a willingness to “agree to disagree.”

    Certainly there are tragic times when such reconciliation fails, but how can we ever leave a church over disagreements and hurts without first going to seek to work things out? Does Matthew 5:23-24 have no bearing? Or Matthew 18:15-18? What about 1 Cor 6? Isn’t it better to suffer loss rather than drag the reputation of the Lord down in public?

    Somehow, we have become comfortable thinking that broken relationships are not a big problem. They are toxic, if Jesus is to be believed.

  10. Heartspeak says

    I can’t help but believe that if a split occurs and a number of folks ‘take their marbles and go home’, some significant toxicity has been brewing for more than a little bit of time. It leads me to suspect that in some way or another, the original church leadership has failed at some level. Failed either to deal properly and righteously with a malcontent or failed to respond to issues of concern within the body. Not dealing with issues will eventually force one to deal with the issue and it will be more difficult later, they can’t be avoided indefinitely.

    Splits just don’t happen ‘all of a sudden’. I tend to believe that even a divisive person cannot gain great traction unless there are genuine issues not being addressed.

  11. says

    I loved this article and agree wholeheartedly! It is all too familiar a description of a recent occurrence with a church and pastor that is dear to us. So glad to see these points brought out that my husband and I have discussed numerous times. It’s a shame to see those who appear as “godly leaders” taking up a following, reaching out to help others, then using that influence to spread enmity with the pastor over what has NOTHING to do with doctrine.

  12. says

    I’ve been on both sides of this situation.

    When I left my first church, where I was on staff, many approached me and said they wanted to leave with me a start a new church. It was tempting, but I declined to do so. I didn’t feel as though starting a church with a group of disgruntled believers was healthy.

    However, many years gone by, the call to plant was still on my heart, even as I ministered at established churches.

    In December of 2012, I resigned the church i was serving and left to begin a new work. Another couple left with us, as we’d discussed this mission many months prior. It wasn’t as if we “took” them, they asked to go, and we all felt it was the right thing to do. My church prayed for us and wished us well, but we lost several friends who apparently would rather have their will for us than God’s.

  13. Warren says

    I’m currently pastoring a church that was started because of a split. I know there are still some hard feelings from some in the area, and I know there are still some pastors in the association who don’t like how the plant was done. But we have been working hard to have a good relationship with the church that we originally split from — this Christmas we had a combined cantata (performed at both churches), and we’re planning some more things like that. I’m finding that people are willing to give the church another try because of the “new pastor,” and I’m hoping that we can become more than “the church that split off from First Baptist.”

  14. says

    If the Word of God is there and preached faithfully, then the new church will continue (in whatever form the Lord decides).

    If the new church focuses on the sinner in the owe, instead of Christ Jesus and what He has done for the sinner in the pew…then the church may grow, but there won’t be any gospel there…so why bother.

  15. Jane says

    I’m reminded of Paul and Silas’ split over John Mark. This was a contentious moment in their relationship and they didn’t part amicably. Some would say Paul was unforgiving and unmerciful; others would say John Mark lacked maturity and steadfastness. Regardless, God was not surprised, and the separation was used to send not one, but two missionary teams out, to God’s glory. Also note that over time, there was reconciliation. We (whether in the planting or the existing church) should rejoice that God’s Word is preached. With as many unchurched and churched-but-not-saved people as there are in this world, there is always room and need for one more bible-teaching church. What keeps us from seeing it this way is simply pride.

  16. says

    I really enjoyed this and it would really be good to see a follow-up post on recommendations of reconciliation. Does the new church Pastor come and apologize for the split and all is forgiven? Should the new Pastor bring the new church under the leadership of the existing church who will then determine the future of the new church? How would reconciliation look in a situation like this. We don’t see many happy endings simply because most of the time when people are at fault they avoid the road less taken.

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