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If you read books, blogs or hear talks on church planting or church growth you will eventually hear someone decry transfer growth. As the term would imply, transfer growth is the moving of people from one church to another. This is to be contrasted with conversion growth, which would describe new Christians joining a church.

The question that must be answered is, is transfer growth bad?

Transfer Growth is Inevitable
Every church is going to have people moving their membership to their congregation. There are a variety of factors here including relocating for work, school, or changes in theology or methodology. This is just a fact of life today. Pastors should not look at these folks as second-class visitors.

Transfer Growth is Helpful
Let’s not forget that sometimes people have real, non-disciplinary issues at other churches that require them to leave. The pastor may have deviated theologically or philosophically. Further, occassionally pastors and church leaders begin to say and do things that make it very difficult for members to stay on board with the mission. After attempting to work through the issues, believers may need to quietly, and peacefully move to another fellowship. Upon this transfer of membership to a more like-minded congregation these folks will begin to grow and serve. This is not a bad thing (it may bring up a whole other conversation about how pastors at different churches should care for one another, but this is beyond my scope here). In this scenario transfer growth helps to serve those in need. It would be foolish for a church leader to look down upon an opportunity to serve a Christian brother or sister in their sanctification.

Transfer Growth is not Enough
After acknowledging my points above we must conclude that transfer growth is not enough. This is where the critics of transfer growth have a point. If all we did was just trade sheep from church to church like fantasy football, eventually the church would become obsolete. The church exists to make and train disciples. In addition to training we need to be making. If this is not happening then we have an ecclesiological flat-tire.

Evaluate What Kind of Growth You are Experiencing
Church leaders need to evaluate who is joining their churches. Is it transfer growth? Great. Don’t decry them or show partiality against them. Serve them, love them, teach them, care for them, shepherd them. Is it only transfer growth? Not-so great. Take some time to evaluate your systems and structures. Is evangelism happening? Are people committed to the mission of the church, the making and training of disciples? If not then it reveals a deficiency in the training as well as the making aspects. There remains work to do.

In summary: don’t decry transfer growth. Rather, rejoice in the opportunity to serve others in their sanctification. At the same time, use it is a data-point to evaluate how faithful the church is engaged in both disciple training and making.

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8 thoughts on “Is Transfer Growth Bad?”

  1. Bob S. says:

    Well said. Transfer growth gets a bad rap but serves its purposes. Certainly, if our churches are only “growing” by trading members then that’s an issue. But, as you point out, there are legitimate reasons for people to leave one church and join another. We shouldn’t look down upon these people, though I think that’s the tendency.

  2. Ben says:

    So then, would Transfer Loss be considered good as well? It seemed like an obvious question to ask in response. Certainly such loss should cause some reflection by the church’s leadership on why folks are transferring out of your congregation. I think such self-examination would be beneficial. But for those not on board with your church’s mission, it does seem healthier to have them leave than to stay and cause problems.

    1. Erik Raymond says:

      Great question Ben. The answer would have to be more nuanced than my post. For example, a pastor that has firm convictions over the mission of the church would not think it good that someone left because they deviated from what the Bible teaches. This is a watch-care, shepherding concern (Heb. 13.17). At the same time it is not ideal for someone to stay and either become divisive or themselves be miserable. It may be a lot easier for someone to wring their hands of dissenting sheep than it is to go and get their hands dirty as a shepherd. I would hate to say it is good that they leave when it may not be that easy.

    2. Mike says:

      I want to commend you on such a terrific question back to the author. My wife and I were members of a church for 10 years, both in leadership positions. I was on the elder track. We left because they weren’t committed to seeing lost people come to Christ, loved their sermons more than their people and were constantly doing things to reinforce the idea that the holy huddle was okay. Despite their insistence otherwise, nearly everyone who had a passion for reaching lost people instead of just teaching doctrine has now left for the same reasons we did. The leadership says “we’re trying to change” but ultimately every single person who could help promote the change got frustrated enough to leave. That little itch should be telling you something but sadly to this day they seem oblivious.

  3. Dan says:

    “Transfer growth is helpful”: This is a reassuring paragraph. I probably would have left my church sometime after my pastor resigned last year, due to internal conflicts among leadership that I was aware of, which stemmed from differing views in regard to worship, preaching, theology in several aspects, discipleship, and evangelism. I remain because my wife still likes our church and desires to preserve the relationships she has established there. My main reasons for desiring to leave are that my own theological views have changed to the point of feeling incompatible with the direction our leadership seems to be taking us; I’m pretty sure it is much more that I have changed than that my church has changed. In trying to answer deeper questions about doctrinal matters, I’ve nearly always had to reach outside of my church, because we do not emphasize doctrine at much more than a basic level. I would desire that all of church life would be doctrinally-informed, but it requires an environment where a high view of Scripture exists both in profession and in practice.

  4. Karen says:

    Poster Dan I could have written what you just wrote – exception being we left. If the leadership in a church (elders/deacons) are not leading and not qualified to – in the case of our church conflict, it makes it impossible to stay in a church when you have joined and taken an oath to uphold the (in our church) creeds, confessions etc. for membership. One can not submit to authority when the authority is not leading in a godly manner. We submitted to the Pastor a great preacher/teacher and the leadership fired him because they decided “he isn’t a good fit.” Founding family control issues in our church. Christ is the ultimate authority not the body of “men” that hold power over the flock – when said teachings go against biblical authority.
    I would say that for the purity of the church you should have explained to your wife that you don’t stay in a church because of friends. If theology has been compromised it is time to leave.
    Read Pastor Abusers by Pastor Kent Crockett. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors in elder meetings until the pastor either resigns or is fired. If it was a moral failing it would be all over the church. When it is over issues as you stated worship, preaching, etc. and the pastor is following said principles correctly and the body doesn’t support him – fight for him and if that doesn’t work run fast because they are going to do it to the next pastor…if he is a faithful man. Transfer growth is it bad – not if you are fleeing for the right reasons. Some good articles out there on “when to leave or when to flee” your church. Happy googling.

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Erik Raymond

Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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