Transfer Growth

Changing Church

There is possibly a church in your town that is growing exponentially, but not without some negative impact on the other churches around it. They have lost members to this church. Inevitably it has been accused of sheep-stealing, growing through transfers rather than conversions (though this is usually an unfounded perception from people who have not gone to the church themselves), or teaching some kind of sugar-coated watered down Christianity which appeals to the less mature.

What is your attitude towards transfer growth?

I do not believe that being critical of the success of another church is in the best interest of the Kingdom, nor ours. Instead of accusing others it is better to take a hard look at ourselves. If I were the pastor who is losing members to another church, the first thing I would do is to ask, “Why is my church losing people to the other church? There must be something (or many things) that the other church is doing right that makes people—including members from my church—want to go to there. What can I learn from the other church that will help my church do better—so that not more members will leave my church; instead more people will come because they find it to be a great church to be a part of?”

Screaming at another church for “sheep-stealing” is not going to help anyone—the least of all myself. But learning how to do church better would be a great blessing to my church. And if all the churches in my city did likewise and continued to grow in spiritual vibrancy and effectiveness it will certainly lead to the advancement of the Kingdom. For the sake of the Kingdom, this has got to be our attitude.

On the other hand, if I were the pastor of the church that is drawing people from other churches I would be very careful to tell my members not to invite them. For the simple reason: we don’t want to grow through transfers but conversions. We don’t want to just grow the church; we want to grow the Kingdom. And the latter can only happen through conversions.

However, if people from other churches came on their own accord, it would not be right for the pastor to tell them not to come. People have a right to choose which church they want to be a part of, or to change their involvement from one church to another. Furthermore, they may have very good reasons for leaving their church, and it will not do them any good if they are then told they are not welcomed here. The opportunity to bless and help someone in need may be lost—and very possibly we may even lose the person to his problems or to the world.

I  believe it is important that we view transfer growth more positively and with greater grace. Let us learn from growing churches, even if some of their growth is due to transfers. On the other hand, let us not be guilty of soliciting members from other churches. But if they choose to come, welcome them and take responsibility to shepherd them for the Kingdom.

6 thoughts on “Transfer Growth

  1. Thanks for a very balanced article. True that in the first place we need to self-examine. I’ve always thought that when sheep are well fed (meaning fat) they would not be able to leave through fence holes surrounding the pen.

    On the other hand, water does find its own level and people leave for a multitude of reasons according to what fits better for them e.g. Needing a quieter expression, a better equipped Sunday School rather than an almost non-existent one, a smaller more personal church etc.etc.

    In some instances, the receiving pastor would ask for a letter of release from the previous pastor. I think this is a good idea, provided the latter is fair, objective and Kingdom minded. The benefit from this is two-pronged – helping the receiving pastor minister meet the needs of the new-comer and/or prepare and protect the receiving church from unwholesome elements.

    All told, transfer growth is not necessarily a bad thing especially if it means no net loss to the Kingdom.

    • Hi Nelson,
      Wouldn’t it be great if pastors in the same city were all big-hearted and Kingdom-minded enough to speak humbly and openly with one another about their churches, and including movements of people in and out of their respective churches? Besides the two benefits that you mentioned, viz. care for the newcomer and protection for the receiving church, it will also build greater trust between pastors.

      Thanks for you comment. Appreciate it.

      SH Lim

  2. Churches should have this hang up on membership growth even numerical growth is good.
    Churches must ensure disciple are made, these will last and make more disciples. Jesus said go make disciples not ‘Christian’

    • Hi Michael,
      I can’t agree with you more, that the church’s prime mandate is to “make disciples”. Pastors and churches should hope that they are not losing members because the latter want to be discipled but the former have have failed them. On the other hand, pastors and churches should not water down on discipleship simply to attract people to their church.

      Thank you for your comment. Appreciate it.

      SH Lim

  3. The secular analogy might be the migration of people from one country to another. Malaysians who are professionals leaving for Singapore, Australia, UK …we understand that well regardless that we might think all ought to stay to fix the system

    • Hi SH Lim
      I suppose the point applies to both the church and the “secular” spheres. I would add though, one should remain where one has been “stationed” unless God tells him otherwise. And this applies to both changing church and emigrating to another country.

      SH Lim

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