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.