Four 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.

Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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