I know. You feel guilty even reading a title so bombastic and blasphemous. In the world of church planting, the words transfer and growth have come to mean something akin to grand larceny, like pastors with Hamburgler masks going from church to church and luring unsuspecting sheep into their churches with the promise of fail-proof sermons, fog-machine worship and Disney-themed water parks for their kids ministry. For church planters, there seems to be an almost irrational sense of shame when you have to admit that your pews are being filled with people from other pews. But is this warranted?
A couple of qualifiers: First, there are a myriad of reasons why people should and should not leave churches, but I won’t be compiling those lists here. Secondly, this in no way is implying that church plants should cast a blind eye toward the lost as long as their membership lists keep on growing. On the other hand, I know a pastor who planted churches in economically depressed areas who would deny entrance to anyone coming from other churches.
Here’s the question I want to briefly unpack: Can transfer growth actually be a good thing when properly defined and understood?
Bad Transfer Growth
There is most certainly a type of transfer growth that happens when churches (or circuses, if you want to use my lingo) pull into town, set up their tent and promise to deliver the greatest evangelical show on earth. With no established roots in the community, they typically succeed in drawing nominal church goers to be part of a “real” and “relevant” “worship experience” that accepts everybody for “who they are” and bends over backwards to create a church environment as “inoffensive” and “comfortable” as humanly possible. Sorry for all the quotes.
This is the type of gentrified transfer growth that makes us shudder because of its corporate, consumer-driven, cookie cutter approach.
But here’s what I think we miss if we keep it this narrowly defined.
Good Transfer Growth
There’s another kind of transfer growth that church plants experience that does not need to be apologized for. This is the kind where God begins a new work in a city or town, and through a distinct movement of the Holy Spirit, the church increases by joyfully receiving men and women from all walks of life into their growing church body. With a primary emphasis on expositional preaching and discipleship, what slowly starts to unfold is a richly fueled outpouring of God’s mercy, grace and love both inside and outside the church walls.
Here’s why this is good transfer growth: Some of these people were in churches where the gospel wasn’t being preached. Some were in churches that had become diluted by all of the bells and whistles that were being banged and blown for the sake of cultural engagement. Some didn’t come from bad churches necessarily but felt like their gifts could be utilized in a context that invited and invested in those who desired to serve. This is the kind of transfer growth that we praise God for, as many who were lying dormant in the graves of dying or dead churches are now experiencing the power of the gospel to provide nourishment for their once starving souls.
All Growth Is Transfer Growth
No, hear me out on this. When it comes down to it, all growth is transfer growth! Every believer is being transformed from one degree of glory to another (1 Cor. 3:18) because they have passed out of death into life (1 John 3:14). Every time a follower of Christ attends a new church, the Holy Spirit is attending to their hearts. Do we not believe that God ordains the steps of dissatisfied church-hoppers? Do we not believe that God uses our churches as the means to call Christians out of callousness and consumerism? Does God not ordain both transfers and growth?
But what about conversion growth, Ronnie? Don’t we want to see people who don’t know Jesus to be made alive by the gospel? Of course we do! And we do that by encouraging our people to live as if every square inch of their lives is a mission field in which they have been called to be missionaries. And when we experience those glorious moments of conversion, we rejoice, and we equip these new and beloved saints for the day that they might become another churches transfer growth.
May we be on guard against manipulation tactics and faithfully preach the gospel, making disciples and giving thanks to God for adding to our churches those who are being saved.