Surviving an American Church Split
In his book entitled living church ministries writes something astonishing: “Almost all growth reported by North American churches today is the result of church switching and birthrate within the churches rather than conversion growth.”
He’s referring to transfer growth rather than new converts. In other words, it’s easier to go to a restaurant and order baked fish than to catch and clean our own.
Over 3800 American churches close their doors annually throughout the USA. The reasons for these closures run the gamut: real or perceived pastoral incompetency, strife, infidelity in leadership marriages, lack of financial integrity, doctrinal discrepancies, power struggles, persecution, congregational distrust or dissatisfaction (only 43% of Christians surveyed say they fully trust their church), choosing sides on any issue, and more. It’s no secret that church splits inflict damage upon the army of God. Things like divorce, death or sickness of a beloved leader, job transfers, college relocation, military reassignment and the like, wreak havoc upon the rank and file Believer. All of these situations leave the average Christian scratching his or her head in bewilderment as their brothers and sisters in Christ leave their fellowship, never to return.
Is it a “bad” thing for the members of a church congregation to scatter like this? At first glance, yes. But it depends on one’s perspective. Sure, it hurts, causing great emotional pain. Though it’s true, in accordance with Scripture, that if one smites the shepherd, the sheep will scatter, the “scattering of the sheep” has been happening since the early days of the church, often without any shepherd-smiting at all. Whether it was through the influential confusion brought upon the Church by the Judaizers (Galatians 1:7; 2:14; 3:1) or the persecution and subsequent scattering of the Church at the hands of the Romans under Nero’s reign during which Peter was martyred, God was never left wringing His hands, anxiously trying to figure out what His next move was going to be. The Jewish-Roman wars of A.D. 66-70 also contributed to the scattering of the saints.
For the first two centuries of the Church, the Apostle Paul and others journeyed forth across the known world to spread the Gospel. As a result of previous scatterings, while remaining true to their faith in Christ, scattered believers had been divinely positioned, ready to receive these traveling evangelists into their homes and give them provisions for their journey as they went forth preaching the Gospel and as the Kingdom of God continued to advance. Again, notice how the Church had been strategically placed, through persecution, to disciple new converts as they came into being. These people would not have been there to receive the evangelists, had they not been scattered by persecution or any other outside influence that had caused their once-cozy groups to split up. God is always in control.
For starters, there’s the shipwrecked faith of the weaker Christians that so often occurs. Sadly, many Christians will abandon the faith altogether in the face of a Church split, disillusioned as they observe those whom they saw as “solid” Christian leaders suddenly picking up stakes and walking out the door. For anyone with shallow roots, Satan can use a church split to spiritually destroy the most vulnerable. For babes in Christ, seeing the world through rose-colored eyes, nothing on Earth can compare to the sweet fellowship from which they’ve found nourishment. Suddenly, boundaries become obscured. Friends become enemies. Brothers become adversaries. And another church-attender goes down with the ship.
Another unfortunate result of a church split is that most of those in pastoral roles will, statistically, never return to full-time pastoral ministry after they lose a church or are uncerimoniously drummed out of the corps. In fact, though they still maintain a relationship with God, the statistics are alarmingly high regarding those ministers who never even join another congregation, much less pastor another flock. Even in these instances, however, it is becoming more and more common to discover licensed and ordained ministers working in our midst as salesmen, floor managers, telemarketers, etc.
Once again, God’s people have been strategically positioned to shine the light of Christ into the darkened life of their coworkers – those who spend more time at work than they do at home – and the Faith at Work Movement is spreading like wildfire. No one leaves their problems at home. A battered wife is still a battered wife at the office. A dad whose daughter turned up pregnant still has a broken heart while managing his crew. I served for 5 years as a workplace chaplain myself and found that ministry quite fulfilling and appreciated by the staff.
WHAT GOOD CAN COME OF A CHURCH SPLIT?
To answer this, we must first recognize that God is more concerned with our individual character than He is in our comfort. Satan and God have one thing in common, friends… they’re BOTH trying to kill us. That’s right. The only good Christian is a dead one! We MUST decrease in order for Jesus to INCREASE. In other words, the world must see more of HIM shining through our lives than they see of US. We have NOTHING to offer that matters in light of eternity besides He Who lives in us, the Spirit of God.