For the past couple of years I’ve been noticing that church growth experts and seasoned pastors alike have been concerned with a troubling trend in US churches, called “transfer growth.” Transfer growth means to “grow by way of receiving new members from other churches.” Carl George, church growth expert, estimates that 80% of church growth today in US churches is from transfer growth, one Christian leaving their church to simply attend another.
Prominent leaders like Thom Reiner, CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, note that today’s lack of “grass roots evangelism” has resulted in the lowest evangelism rate in the past 40 years. He states that on average a church will only win one new believer for ever forty committed Christians. Meaning, like the old Polish joke, “How many Christians does it take to win a new soul- 40?!” What is the rate supposed to be according to Jesus, one to one! Every Christian on a minimum basis should be winning a new soul and assimilating them into the church every year, Matthew 28:18-20.
Church Hopping vs. Transfer Growth
Transfer growth shouldn’t be confused with “church hopping.” Church hopping or church hoppers are “Christians who can’t remain committed to any church for a long length of time.” The difference between a “church hopper” and a “transfer” is the church hopper will “hop” to another church within a short duration of time (less than 3-5 years), however, the transferred believer will stay committed to the new church for a long duration of time (more than 3-5 years).
Therefore, not all transfer growth can be considered negative. For example: Someone may choose to find a church closer to where they live, look for a specific kind of ministry not found where they currently attend, or simply not agree with the current direction of their church and wish to find a church more in agreement with their personal goals.
Five Different Kinds of People in Every Church
All healthy churches will have the following five kinds of people in their midst,
- New Believers: Recent converts who were saved in the church and are less than a year old in the Lord.
- Disciples: Committed followers of Christ who were either saved in the church or transferred and then were trained to be discipleship leaders.
- Transfers: New attendees that have come from another church and have not yet joined the leadership process.
- Church Hoppers: Low committal attendees that are visiting the church without any real intention of being discipleship leaders.
- The Lost: Unsaved attendees who come to church, but don’t know Jesus yet as their personal Lord and Savior.
Every church will have the same kind of people in their midst, therefore, the challenge for godly church leadership is to insure their church becomes and remains healthy in both a qualitative sense (growing in quality, i.e., “spiritual depth”) and in a quantitative sense (growing in quantity, i.e. “numbers”).
Traits of a Healthy Church
Here is a list and basic description of the four main practices found in a healthy church, (i) evangelism, (ii) assimilation, (iii) discipleship, and (iv) leadership development. Also, I have added what the leadership should aim for in their assessments in each category.
1. EVANGELISM // A healthy church should aim to have a higher percentage of “home grown believers” than “transferred Christians” in their church. Thus, evangelism must be a regularly promoted and practiced ministry in the church.
Assessment Goal: Over 50% of the church population has been won to the Lord by the church itself.
2. ASSIMILATION // A healthy church should have an effective way to bring the new believers and transfers into a place of belonging in the church. Small groups, one-on-one meet ups, and welcome classes are great ways for churches to bring new people into a healthy relationship with the church.
Assessment Goal: Over 25% of the all the church’s visitors should join the next step in the church’s vision. (Note: The next step could be membership classes or discipleship/leadership training programs.)
3. DISCIPLESHIP // A healthy church must have a process whereby all people groups (new believers, transfers, etc.) are trained in the ways and teachings of Jesus Christ, i.e., “a discipleship program.”
Assessment Goal: Over 50% of all the church’s attendees are involved in the leadership training process.
4. LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT // A healthy church will have and maintain a life-long system of challenging and encouraging the spiritual growth of all its trained disciples. Through assessments, training seminars, and personalized growth tracks the disciple should be engaged and held accountable to life-long-growth both inwardly in spiritual depth and outwardly in self-sacrificing ministry.
Assessment Goal: The church should maintain 85% or higher of its leadership each year. Specifically, a healthy church should not lose more than 15% of its disciples serving in the ministry.
How a Person Should Leave Their Church
Despite all the best intentions by disciples and their leadership, times do come when God leads people in a new direction. Here are some things to consider before leaving the church you currently attend:
1. Have you expressed your desires and “new needs” with the leadership? And are you willing to give 3-6 months to work through the process?
Don’t just show up to a meeting and hand in your “two week notice,” nothing could be more inconsiderate or disrespectful to those who love you and have labored among you- and yes, just disappearing and not speaking to someone face-to-face is a 100x worse. Could you imagine Timothy or Titus doing this to Paul? Or one of the disciples to Jesus?
Take time to go through the “process” with your existing church. Most churches would love to hear someone’s new needs or lack of purpose and direction because “serving people, sparking new passion, and meeting needs” is the very reason why church leadership works so hard! Good leadership can be both creative and sensitive to help frustrated members get refreshed and renewed.
Plus, if after meeting for 3-6 months things have not changed there is a good chance the current church leadership will send you in a way that is both healthy for your family and the church family you are leaving.
2. Have you avoided all the major pitfalls of bitterness, self-righteousness, and rebellion?
Most people don’t realize how much the devil attacks the church and its precious leadership. Therefore, when the devil can bring a root of bitterness in the midst of God’s people it can defile many, Hebrews 12:15! Thus, it’s very important to sincerely check your heart on “how” and “why” you are leaving. You could be the one at fault and the devil is simply deceiving you to think the church is the problem, but really its your hardened heart, Psalm 139:23.
I’m not saying that every time a person desires to leave their church they are in sin. However, in my pastoral experience over 80% of the people who leave their church do so because the enemy attacked them and they were deceived to think their issue was with God’s people- the very ones who led them to the Lord and helped them through life’s troubles. Meaning, 8 out of the 10 people I see leave their church do so because of inner issues that they are not aware of until it is too late.
Therefore, take time to express yourself to leadership for 3-6 months so your heart can be guarded and no root of sin can arise, you will be thankful you did!
3. What are the 2-3 Scriptural words God has given you to seek a new church?
I’ve heard people say, “God told me its okay to smoke marijuana!” Thus, as a church leader I don’t naively trust when people say, “God said.” This doesn’t mean that “if God hasn’t spoken it to me, I don’t believe it.” But rather, I know that “we all can miss God!” Thus, as a leader I can only put my full trust in what God’s Word is saying to me and the people around me, 1 Peter 1:24-25.
If God is really guiding you to find a new church, ask Him to lead you through the Scriptures. God’s number one way to lead His people is through the Word of God, 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5! As a result, your current leadership can help guide you in a great exit and the receiving church leadership can honestly give you the proper guidance that will result in your spiritual success.
How Pastors Should Receive Christians from Other Churches
The receiving church leadership should discern what kind of Christians they are receiving into their midst- whether they are good/bad transfers or church hoppers, 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Therefore, here are some good questions for pastors to ask new people who are considering joining their church:
1. Did you leave the church your coming from on good terms? If we spoke to your former leadership would they say good things about you moving on?
How they left someone else’s church is key to how they view church commitment and how they would consider leaving your church, 2 Corinthians 8:18.
This doesn’t mean the new pastor must agree with all of the previous pastor’s ways of handling things or even their specific church methods. However, if the former church and leadership is truly godly, their views concerning the exiting Christian should be considered valuable and worth taking note of.
2. What specific things are you now looking for that you didn’t receive where you were?
If they can’t answer this clearly, then its a sign that their reasons for leaving their former church were most likely shallow and self-serving. If they can answer clearly with Scripture references then the new leadership has a place to start working in their life.
On the other hand, if they come with selfish motives this doesn’t mean they can’t change and be humbled to receive fresh passion and a new sense of God’s call, however, it does serve as an indicator of what working with them might be like.
3. Are you willing to begin new courses of leadership training and learn our way of doing things?
This will be a great indication of what their heart is really like. If they simply want to be placed into ministry without being properly trained and given a foundation of the church, then most likely they don’t value Christ-centered-ministry but only ego-driven-ministry, Philippians 2:19-22. And if they don’t desire any kind of training and simply want to sit on their “holy back side” there spiritual immaturity will be revealed.
However, if they have a real hunger for “re-training” and “proper merging” into the fast lane of ministry, chances are their heart is ready to serve and go big for God!
In conclusion, both leaders and new church seekers alike must make a bold decision not to be a part of the problem of weak Christianity and lack of biblical discipleship but rather be a part of the solution. Therefore, let us all make a Holy-Ghost-led decision to not serve ourselves only, but look to the common good of the Body of Christ and be disciples that make disciples!
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.