The Great TRANSFER GROWTH Boogie Monster
An assumption of many pastors about church planting in North America is that new churches just draw people from other churches. Underlying that assumption is the fear that the new church in town is going to do harm to my success and take “MY people.” So, as a strategist I seem to spend a lot of my time talking to Pastors about the potential negative impact of church planting on their church and the SCARY notion that the transfer growth boogie monster will jump out of the closet and get us all if we plant new churches.
And, unfortunately, some church plants have earned this reputation, proving this assumption true, and done harm to church multiplication efforts in several ways. To that I say: SHAME ON THEM!!!
Church planting is about evangelism that leads to a new church, NOT let’s create a better experience than all the other churches and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when their members pile up in our chairs and put their money in our plate. I heard of one church recently that had “lost” 800 people to a new church with a livelier experience on Sunday morning creating a financial hardship for the church. I heard of another church that intentionally targeted people from other churches because they were people of influence in the community and “God wants our church to be filled with influencers.”
JD Payne has written a great piece called Ethical Guidelines for Church Planters and challenges church planters to “not prioritize transfer growth by designing ministries that will primarily attract believers” and to “have a systematic plan to respond to the transfers who want to become part of the new church.” Here’s some of Payne’s comments:
On planting as Kingdom expansion not just church growth:
Church planting is not about attracting a crowd or launching a worship service, but rather it is about the advancement of the Kingdom as unbelievers become followers of the living God through local expressions of the Body of Christ. Though crowd attraction and starting a new worship service are not necessarily bad things, their manifestations, however, do not necessarily mean the Kingdom has advanced. In many cases, such events actually attract large numbers of Kingdom Citizens. For church planters to settle for large numbers of transfer growth is not the way of the Apostolic Church.
On the dangers of transfer growth to the church planting initiative:
Even for the church planters who are doing everything possible to discourage transfer growth, they will encounter it. Particularly in the North American context, members of other churches will be interested in the new work. Some of these brothers and sisters will have a genuine desire to serve in a new work. Others, however, will be of the massive consumerist crowd looking for the most novel thing in town. These “new-experience Christians” will remain as long as their desires are met. Like parasites on a living organism, they participate to take, until they get their fill or until something else comes along to satisfy their desires. Rather, than understanding who they are in Christ, and their place in the work of the ministry (Eph 4:12), they believe that following Christ is an individualistic, self-gratifying, desire-meeting experience void of biblical koinonia.
On the ethics of transfer growth:
Regardless of the motivation behind any local church members wanting to be a part of the new work, it is unethical for a church planting team (and the new churches) to receive them as members without regard for their local church family in which they are presently involved in a covenant relationship.
What process should be in place? Payne says the church planter should find out what evangelical church the person is a member of and why they desire to leave that fellowship. Second, contact that pastor to inquire why they would want to leave. Third, only allow them to join after discouraging them from leaving their church and asking them to get the pastors blessing that this move is a prompting from God. I’ve added a third question to my on process: “Have you made pledges to that church?” When churches are in capital campaigns, etc. they ask people to make pledges and this is seen as a spiritual commitment. So we challenge people to fulfill their pledge or be released from it. See Ecclesiastes 5:5.
Dr. Payne’s concerns for a code of ethics for church planters are worth noting:
In the face of great spiritual opposition and ministerial challenges, church planters are many times faced with the temptation to accomplish something good for the Kingdom at the sacrifice of something great for the Kingdom. Faced with funding resources that diminish over time, lack of receptivity of people to the Gospel, the pressures to start a worship service and produce certain numbers at a worship gathering, many times leads missionaries down a path that deviates from biblically based and missiological guided church multiplication strategies.
…such as settling for and designing ministries to attract Christians and not penetrate the majority of unreached people in North America and beyond.
In Part two, I’ll ask a few question of pastors and ministry leaders on the other side of this, who are poopooing on the whole notion of church planting and multiplication in fear of the great Transfer Growth Boogie Monster.
Also check out the post entitled Commitment, Honor, & Transfer Growth that spells out a few ethical guidelines for ministry leaders to consider.