Stealing Sheep: The Hidden Danger of Transfer Growth

I recently read a book by William Chadwick called, Stealing Sheep.  Here’s my review:

$T2eC16V,!y0E9s2S646tBR(!-nz,0!~~_35In Stealing Sheep, William Chadwick addresses the discreet yet volatile dangers of transfer growth within churches.  Chadwick has served as pastor in different churches, and he currently pastors Stroudwater Christian Church in Portland.  As a pastor, he personally witnessed and actually initiated change within churches that enabled transfer growth to take place.  In his book, Chadwick challenges pastors to evaluate current growth and determine whether or not a church is truly growing based upon conversion growth and not merely transfer growth (“transfer growth” is growth experienced by churches from members of other churches, no one is getting saved, the deck us just being shuffled).

Concerning people who are transferring membership to another church, Chadwick postulates that each person fits into a category of four types of straying “sheep” (18).  People desire to transfer churches if they are dissatisfied, malnourished, discontented, or influenced (18-19).  Chadwick confessed at how easy it is for him to get enraptured with prideful feelings when people leave another church to join the one he is pastoring (23).  Chadwick commented that “transfer growth, by definition, creates no numerical growth in the kingdom of God” (30).  Not only is this type of growth dangerous, Chadwick holds that it is dividing the body of Christ and stunting the growth of believers who become too lazy to work out their differences within their current church (57).

Regardless of the Church Growth Movement’s founders’ intentions, Chadwick has witnessed a straying of evangelistic strategies and motivation within churches who are concerned solely with numbers (101).  Chadwick exhorted pastors to lead by example by persevering with a congregation through difficult times (155).  He also urged pastors to establish covenants with other ministers within the community to focus on evangelistic growth and not transfer growth (153).

Critical Evaluation
Chadwick demonstrated a genuine concern for the lack of conversion growth among many churches.  While he needed to exhort ministers to focus on conversion growth, he neglected to reveal honestly why so many people do desire to leave their present churches.  While “stealing sheep” is not a biblically encouraged practice for pastors, the Bible also contains warnings against pastors and congregations who are not being effective in their calling as a church (Revelation 2-4).

The “starving sheep” on which Chadwick commented normally have a complex situation (18).  If a person is a member of a congregation which simply does not focus on the biblical mandates for Jesus’ church (159), is God truly upset at that person for leaving that church to join a church that is truly behaving like a New Testament church?  Or could Christ be more disappointed in a person who wasted his or her life in a stagnate church full of members who only became passionate concerning personal preferences in aesthetics and worship styles?  Chadwick criticizes churches who have experienced transfer growth, but in many situations, the pastors are unable to hinder people from transferring because other churches and ministers have gotten so far removed from what they were supposed to be focusing (159).

Chadwick cited many different statistics concerning the lack of conversion growth in America within the years associated with the Church Growth Movement (64).  In most mega-churches, the congregation is composed of a large percentage of transfer growth.  Chadwick attacks the Church Growth Movement because an increase in conversions is not accounted for during a time when these churches’ attendance has rapidly grown.  Due to these statistics, Chadwick holds that these churches have only allured Christians from other churches and not truly converted lost people (68).

Chadwick neglects the fact that the number of conversions has also declined dramatically due to a large number of churches whose entire membership have not reached or baptized any one person in a number of years.  Ministers who have vehemently opposed Church Growth principles do not necessarily have any conversion growth to show for their efforts either (87).  By not addressing smaller churches and solely attacking larger churches, Chadwick neglects the major dilemma concerning churches that are not even attempting to reach out to the people of the world.

Chadwick’s concern rests in a false hope that inflated or flawed membership numbers of churches can provide.  While transfer growth is not a good indicator of evangelistic progress of a church, it also does not negate a church’s effectiveness.  A growing church is not to blame if discontented Christians from other churches flock to the growing congregation.  When a church’s focus and intention rests solely on transfer growth, the members are in desperate need of an awakening to Christ’s call for the local church. Unfortunately, transfer growth is one of those church elements that may not necessarily be wanted or planned, but it is simply a reality for non-perfect churches full of non-perfect people.