What causes church splits? How can healing occur after a church split?

Church splits, or the division of a church into two or more churches, can have many causes. Church splits are often painful, leading to the need for healing among those involved.

Some church splits occur over doctrinal issues. For example, if a church denomination no longer holds to the Bible as God's inerrant Word, then there is often a split between those who agree with the denomination's decision and those who do not. Because this is a central belief, those who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture rightly seek to separate from the church denomination and will result in either the church separating from the denomination or a split into a different church.

Sometimes a church splits due to a scandal by a church leader or prominent member. Some may disagree with how other leadership handles the situation and choose to leave or start a new church. Others may feel so hurt and betrayed that they feel they can no longer attend the church. A leader of the church might feel he has been mistreated and start a new church, and some may follow him. Honest conversations, self-examination, and prayer for wisdom are necessary in such situations (Matthew 18:15–20; 1 Corinthians 5:9–13; 1 Timothy 1:17–25).

Other times a church splits due to a conflict regarding a building project or other church activity or a major change in format or style. In these situations, each family needs to pray about God's call. It can be appropriate to leave a church, even because of stylistic issues, but the manner in which a person leaves matters. Gossiping, causing unnecessary division, battling over non-essential matters, being prideful, belittling others, and not actively praying for God's wisdom are inappropriate behaviors (Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 1:11–17; Ephesians 4:29–32; Titus 3:10–11; James 1:5; 4:1–12). If a person does think God is calling them elsewhere, it is helpful to have a conversation with the leadership of the current church before leaving. Often it is best for anyone who does leave a church to go to an already-established local church. Splitting an existing church into two opposing groups is generally not conducive to unity in the universal body of Christ.

Unfortunately, many church splits are related to some type of sin or communication or leadership problem. These issues need to be addressed to help the church return to reconciliation and pursue church health among its members. Those involved are often hurt and require a time of healing. Wrongs must be admitted or confessed, and a time of forgiveness needs to take place. With prayer and humility, problems can be addressed, reconciled when possible, and the process of healing can take place. A church is ultimately only as healthy as its members. When members have been hurt, individual attention is often needed to help each person grow, forgive, and move forward.

Sometimes, outside consultation can be used to help with a church split. Whether a denominational leader or outside consultant, a fresh voice with experience in dealing with church problems can provide assistance and a plan to heal from past hurts and begin again. In cases in which a pastor has left as the result of a church split, an interim pastor can also serve as a great help. This transitional leader can offer weekly teaching and pastoral care while the church heals and looks for future direction.

First Corinthians 12 discusses the importance of the church as a body. Together, each person has a part to work together toward the unity and growth of the church. When each person chooses to get involved and help, the power of the church increases and healing can occur to help change the church and the lives of its people.

Related Truth:

What was God's purpose in establishing the church?

How can a local church survive / recover when its pastor leaves?

Why do some churches die yet others seem to thrive?

What is the reason for all the Christian denominations?

Is it okay to attend two (or more) different churches? Is it wrong to attend multiple churches?

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