Transfer growth ≠ growth

Last week I wrote an article about how transfer growth isn’t something that should be celebrated as much as it is. It’s fine, but it’s no indication of spiritual growth or sadly of people becoming Christians. You can read the article here. Naturally there was some discussion afterwards, publicly and privately which has lead me to follow up on that article a little. Obviously no article, which I intentionally keep short, can cover this vast topic.

I should have said that the context I serve in is in a city church. Therefore, transfer growth happens more often than it probably does in rural churches.

I know many rural pastors and churches who are very encouraged when other Christians move into town and attend their church. They bring their own gifts and skills and can be a good source of encouragement. But even in rural churches there can be an issue of ‘church hopping’. People might jump from church to church to find a place that suits ‘their needs’. But that’s a whole different post that I’m not going to get into now…

Many city churches grow a lot due to transfer-growth. This can be for many unhelpful and unhealthy reasons, but also for a few good reasons. However, as cities grow it becomes more expensive to buy properties and so on. It’s becoming more popular to live near a city, which is perfectly understandable.

The problem is though if someone is driving for a long time to get to their church whilst driving past plenty of good, Bible-believing church on the way. Why is this a problem?

  • It robs smaller churches of serving members.

There may be very good reasons for people to attend and serve in churches that are not their local ones. For example, I live in one area of the city but serve a church in another. I pass a good number of churches to get to my own on a Sunday morning, but I work there, it’s also my job.

But there are plenty of bad reasons to drive a distance to attend another church (history, professionalism, comfort, style, etc.). Whilst your gifts and skills may be wonderfully put to use in a city church, is it really wise to take that away from smaller churches that could use help?

There are plenty of smaller churches on the outskirts of cities, and within cities, that are on the decline. They could use a influx of serving member who are passionate about Jesus and serving Him. Don’t rob smaller churches of serving members who can encourage people who have served for many years.

  • It adds to the ‘celebrity church’ culture.

Bigger churches can often have a bit of a celebrity culture, that can revolve around both the leader and/or the church itself. It doesn’t end well. Churches and pastors should actively be working against having such a culture. We should be making much of Jesus not of ourselves.

Traveling past good, Bible-believing churches to attend a bigger city church adds to that culture. The pastor might not know it, the church might not know it, but the other church around and the town you’re driving out of will feel it. More people does not mean better Bible teaching. More people does not mean better ‘worship’. More people does not mean that you’re cared for better.

We’ve become an entertainment culture and it’s in the church too. It’s easier to travel into bigger church because it might mean we serve less. It might mean that we sit under the teaching of a specific pastor and so on. But we’re contributing to the idea that city church is better and that having more people in a church is better. That isn’t always true.

Serve your local church and get stuck right in.

  • It disconnects you from your local community.

This is probably the most obvious, but least acted upon. If you live 30-45 minute away from your church, how do you expect those you share the gospel with to come to church? If you invite your neighbours to a carol service, for example, will they be more like to travel 5 or 50 minutes?

Every Christian should be reaching out to their community, to their family and friends and to their work colleagues. Sharing the gospel with those around us shouldn’t be an option for a Christian, but it’s a command from Jesus.

But if we are working all day, then are in a church that’s some distance away at the weekend, are we really investing in our community? Are we really trying our best to reach those around us?

Being at a church 5 minutes walk away doesn’t mean you’ll be the centre of the community hub. It won’t fix everything, I am not naive. But it will mean that we will be representatives of the local church and people won’t be wondering what’s wrong with the local one if we’re traveling into the city.

We should be sharing the gospel and pointing people to their local church. That’s best done if we attend it too.

A final word for pastors in city churches…

If you have people who start attending your church and as you get to know them you hear they come from a different, and good, church in the same area, ask why they want to move. Encourage them to stay where they are instead of church hopping.

If you have members who live at a distance, ask them why. Why do they travel? What local churches are in their area that they could invest in instead?

Make a big deal of the local church! City churches should be at the forefront of training people, equipping them and sending them to smaller churches. Why not start by encouraging people to attend their local church? That way you might not be a gathered church, but you might also become a local one.

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