Over the years, I’ve seen churches divide. What I’ve learned, though, is that 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 to consider:
1. Unresolved, but hidden, anger over a past church issue. I’m amazed by how many times I’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, the volcano is always ready to erupt.
2. Bitterness among members. I don’t understand it, but I’ve 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.
3. Turf wars. Look around to see who in the church is protecting something. 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.
4. 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.
5. Unchanging lay leadership. When the primary lay leadership of the church has not changed in years because the church is not raising up new leaders, the church may be developing an “us vs. them” or “older folks vs. newer folks” division.
6. Parking lot and hallway meetings. The conversations may be quiet ones, but they’re not unnoticed. Frustrated members who meet behind the scenes (even those who in the long run take a right position) are only fostering division.
7. 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.
8. 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 in attendance) when inner turmoil is developing.
9. Less frequent times of corporate prayer. It sounds cliché, but the church that prays together is more likely to stay together. When division is simmering, people talk more to others behind the scenes (see #6 above) than they talk to God together.
What other warning signs would you add to this list?