Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Growth by Fission: Anatomy of a Church Split
This piece will make you think... Rod Heggy has written a rather long piece on when and how churches should split. See what you think:
Many of the leading evangelical churches in any community were founded as a result of the break up by fission of a predecessor congregation. Indeed, many churches have been in existence long enough that there is little or no institutional memory remaining of the origin of the congregation.
Church splits usually come about due to the same things that typically plague other human organizations. Churches that split often have an abundance of money and people assets. They usually, however, are not sharing them in church planting or some other Biblically sanctioned endeavor of equal importance. Churches should amicably split by fission or spawning, from time to time, just to plant more churches in the local operational area for which they are responsible.
In Oklahoma City, for example, there is a church on every corner in the county in which I reside, but not so many in the ethnic, poor, or immigrant neighborhoods. Any church in this part of the country that does not have a Spanish language capability, in my view, is under-staffed and deliberately ignoring the needs of people who live twenty minutes away by car. I am not suggesting there should be no foreign missions field investment, but rather, I am suggesting neither field should be neglected financially or in terms of effort.
A new wrinkle is application in churches of the standards used in secular enterprises. If a minister fails to meet certain standards of productivity, e.g., offerings, attendance, visitors, new members, etc., that minister’s performance becomes an issue. Many evangelical church leadership groups live vicariously through the ministers they have hired. In many evangelical churches, the leadership is constrained to deal with “property issues” while the minister does everything else. When that type of ministerial relationship must change due to the departure of the minister, especially when it has been successful by secular definition, turmoil in the congregation and leadership often follows.
It is very difficult for a “successful” minister to be followed by anyone, especially someone of lesser gifts. This is especially true if the leadership has been rationalizing its spirituality, or lack thereof, by in effect taking credit for the minister’s success. Very often the leadership will grant the new minister some arbitrarily selected period of time to become a “success,” forgetting that the successful minister who just left took a great deal longer to achieve the happy plateau now being sought again.
Thus, the abundance of people and resources often results in squandered resources, leadership that is full of opinions but lacking in action, and bickering. A replacement minister walks into this situation and does not stand a chance. I have often thought the first thing a new minister should do upon arrival is start looking for a way to amicably split the church by fission and plant a new church in a nearby community, especially if there are new communities identifiable by their ethnicity or by their lack of a church presence. The new minister will have little chance of satisfying the fat and happy congregation.
How big should a church get before it considers growth by fission a mandatory duty? If the church has sufficient leadership that strife can occur, for no other good reason than the multiplicity of opinions, founding another church might absorb the excess. If a church has thousands of members, has turned its worship service into a variety show that would rival Ed Sullivan, and its salaried staff needs an organizational chart, then spawning or fission is long overdue. In these mega-churches, the wasted manpower, the wasted talents, and the gluttonous consumption of resources is shameful, especially when within driving distance there are neighborhoods that are not served at all or only sparsely served. These conclusions might also be true of churches that number their congregations in the hundreds.
What do you think? What do you think about the pro-active split? Other than the pre-disposed, obligatory hatred of large churches, I think Rod makes some good points.Add Your Comments and Ideas now...
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Posted by: BeHim | Jun 6, 2006 12:06:18 PM
I’m not sure that all of Mr. Heggy’s ideas about why churches split are accurate. In fact, I think his opening statement ("Many of the leading evangelical churches in any community were founded as a result of the break up by fission of a predecessor congregation.") is even true. Certainly it is not just large churches that split, as he seems to suggest. And even for all the conflict in churches during pastoral transitions, I’m not sure that that is among the leading causes of church splits.
The quasi-economic arguments he offers are also not based in fact. While large churches spend a lot more on properties than their smaller counterparts, the “cost per attender” is often far less; this is known as “economies of scale”, and can be easily documented. Quite honestly, on reading the portion of his article that Todd did not include here, it seems to me that Mr. Heggy is merely using the circumstance of one large Texas church’s recent split to lambast large churches in general.
With those disclaimers, I think there is merit in some of what Mr. Heggy suggests; that is, when (and how) should a church plan to split...or, rather, to plant a new church from within? There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to that question. A church in Atlanta determined that its optimal size was 400, and over 20 years planted several other churches when it reached that size. For the church I’m at in San Diego, the “magic number” is 1700; we’re at about 1,400 now, expect to be about 1,600 by next spring, and are planning to plant a church of 200+ in the fall of 2007. One of the things our pastor mentioned to me was that a church of less than 200 people in San Diego isn’t economically feasible. (Given the abundance of such churches here, I’m not sure I agree with him; they just look different than the churches he and I are used to.)
It’s unfortunate that Mr. Heggy’s good suggestions are lost in the muddy waters of his convoluted arguments and anti-large church rhetoric.
Posted by: Randy Ehle | Jun 6, 2006 7:11:13 PM
Randy, I agree. Our church was formed from a group of airmen who saw a need of a bible preaching church in it's community some 50 years ago. They banded together and started a bible study and Sunday school and finally called a preacher to direct the leadership and then purchased a building and land near by the air base to cater to the needs of the community. The base is long gone but the church lives on with several of the original folks there. They tell of building this building and paving the parking lot and buying the parcel next door and all that stuff. I was not one of the charter members, but when around the area on vacation or in for a reunion, they will all stop by and see their handiwork for the Lord. There are some works here that did start from splits, but most of them were short lived and have gone the way of the world, now bars or residential settings.
Posted by: Jay Gainer | Jun 10, 2006 2:54:43 PM
BeHim Posted this in response to Rod H.
I’m not sure that all of Mr. Heggy’s ideas about why churches split are accurate. In fact, I think his opening statement ("Many of the leading evangelical churches in any community were founded as a result of the break up by fission of a predecessor congregation.")is even true. Certainly it is not just large churches that split, as he seems to suggest. And even for all the conflict in churches during pastoral transitions, I’m not sure that that is among the leading causes of church splits.
My first thought was to approach founding members of my church which has spit twice in the last seven years that are still living and to ask and find out how our church came into existence. With a desire to hear it firsthand. As far as Rod's suggestions being lost in anti-large church rhetoric. My suggestion for this would be when you hear something that sounds like the truth whether you are in a large church or a small church, that you pray to almighty God whom through Jesus Christ we have a personal relationship with and ask him to reveal to you the reality of your situation. I would also suggest that you include those that are around you in your prayer for God tells us in John 14:14 "If you ask anything in my name, I will do it"
God Bless and lets move as one, for they will know we are Christians by our Love.
Posted by: BeMore | Sep 30, 2006 2:08:20 PM
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