A change in the economic climate of an area can result in transfer growth. Bermondsey in South London in England was until recently settled with older people. Their children have always wanted to better themselves and invariably move to the suburbs to get new homes until a downturn in the economy came along. Suddenly, enthusiastic young married couples come flooding back into the Bermondsey area where they can afford the housing. The local church finds itself with a grand influx of new members without really trying. This type of increase is called "transfer church growth." Most churches have new families who transfer in and out from time to time but, generally, this does not lead to transfer growth. The problem is that this transfer can just as quickly reverse itself and become "decline" should the circumstances change. This growth is mainly beyond our control, but there is another type of growth that can occur that is not good for us. Some other descriptive term like "obesity" is more acceptable in our modern environment than "fatness growth."✞
The Sunday school teacher had been telling the story of the prodigal son. "The elder brother was angry," she said, "because the prodigal was getting such preferential treatment." After explaining the story thoroughly, the teacher asked one little boy, "Was anyone sorry that the prodigal son had returned?" For a moment, the child hesitated and then answered, "Yes, the fatted calf." We need to watch that our church doesn't just get fat, not in a physical but in a spiritual way!✞
Biological, transfer, and evangelism growth are all excellent characteristics for any church to have. Biological church growth results from raising and retaining the children of members within the church. Biological growth is "the exponential growth of biological organisms." In terms of the church, this kind of growth rarely happens except in close-knit communities where the church is the source of social activity, community, and entertainment, as well as being the religious focal point in an area or town. Strangely, in recent times, this activity has declined rapidly with the fall in the mainline congregations. The Baptists, Mennonites, and Pentecostals, who all seem to work hard at developing close-knit family groups, seem to have done better than other mainline churches like the Anglicans, United, or Roman Catholic Churches. The key is developing and keeping their young people in the life of the church.✞
Biological church growth depends on people who go to church because they always have, just like their parents and grandparents! A. W. Tozer (1897-1963), the American Christian pastor, emphasized the parallel truth that the organization is not always enough to produce biological growth. He wrote, "One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a soccer team. The first requisite is life, always." An essential part of developing youth ministry seems to be to encourage teenagers and children to accept Christ and then to share the faith, values, and Christian life of their parent's faith.✞
Most young adults in churches today tend to reject the concept of biological growth because they wouldn't want to go to their parent's church any more than their parents would like to go to their after-school club. In certain circumstances, some "biological growth" churches grow even though they do nothing. For example, when people follow a charismatic leader or preacher from one congregation to another. The local people involved can be perplexed and the institution too!✞
Transfer growth occurs when new people join a Church from another local congregation for various reasons. Transfer growth occurs through at least two sets of circumstances, with the obvious one being the arrival or departure of a new minister. The leader brings such natural initial enthusiasm and charisma to the ministry that people from other churches are attracted there, perhaps even out of curiosity. The opposite is possible when a minister leaves, and so do a segment of the congregation who are unhappy. Maybe these people are bored with their former church, had a disagreement, or something else causes them to get itchy feet! During a new pastor's "honeymoon period," or initial six months in a church, this kind of transfer growth tends to happen, much to everyone's encouragement at the time. "See," he says to his bishop or overseer, "I've been here only three months, and the congregation has increased by fifty percent already!" The bishop pats him on the back and counsels, "Let's wait and see, shall we?" When the dynamic minister leaves, then so do many of his people. Carey Nieuwhof, speaks and writes about Church Transfer Growth. "Transfer growth has several challenges that, unattended, can wreak havoc in your church. As much as you shoot for 100% of your increase to be from the unchurched, if you've got a great ministry, transfer growth will happen. But it does come with challenges. Consider your church, is it a friendly group? If the pastor moves, would many of your people leave too?
1. THE DISCONTENT THAT DROVE PEOPLE FROM THE LAST CHURCH OFTEN DRIVES THEM FROM YOURS.
2. OVER-ENTHUSIASM EVENTUALLY BECOMES ANGER.
3. THEY COMPARE YOUR CHURCH TO THE LAST CHURCH THEY LEFT.
4. A CONSUMER MINDSET CAN LEAVE GOOD PEOPLE BEHIND.
5. UNDERSTAND THAT ALIGNMENT AROUND YOUR STRATEGY WILL BE THE BIGGEST ISSUE FOR TRANSFER GROWTH.✞
"Church obesity" is one unexpected form of church growth. The most effective long term type is relational evangelism growth. Church obesity seems to be the dominant form of church growth in many churches in recent years. There are at least two forms of obesity growth that can occur. First, it happens in the "social" type of church. Here, the people major on big dinners, bingo bonanzas, and picnic parties, in fact, anything that raises money to keep the church going. The idea is that you invite people into a free meal or to a play or to receive some kind of entertainment and hope that they will stay long enough to make church members. The fellowship of church believers becomes little more than a private club meeting on the church premises. Someone has commented, "Many church clubs don't even have God as a member!" "Evangelism Growth," however, is the sole vehicle for constant church growth. Evangelism growth seeks to add meaning to life for those people within the church and endeavors to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others outside.✞
Evangelism's growth at its very best is relational and encompasses personal relationships with God and with others. John Wesley (1703-1791), the English founder of Methodism, would have been amazed at the potential for church growth available through social media, the internet, and television today. But is something lost over the airways? Is the personal touch lacking? Is not a personal relationship essential in evangelism? Whenever we use the word evangelism, we think of the late Dr. Billy Graham (1918-2019) at the podium expounding the Scripture on a late evening TV show. In years gone by, we might perhaps have recalled other itinerant faith healers in expensive-looking suits in a large striped tent on the parking lot of the local mall. The term "evangelist" conjures up so many different ideas centering around performance and the "big show," which in some ways are akin to a "Barnum and Bailey Circus" or even the "Cirque du Soleil" entertainment today. Evangelism Growth should result in expansion both inside and outside the church. Inside, church members are personally deepened and challenged as the Gospel is preached, lived out, and the Scriptures unfolded. Outside, in being so inspired, these Christians want to share this same wonderment with others. As The Rev. Charles Wesley (1707-1788), the English leader of the Methodist movement, expressed it in one of the 6,000 or so hymns that he wrote, "My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed Thee."✞
While many gifted men and women of God, Graham, and Wesley performed an effective ministry within the church as a whole. Very often, they did not always build up the local church as they should. Dr. Graham was quick to acknowledge this problem. More often, they tended to construct mini-churches where followers never met each other, their collection went in the mailbox, and they worshiped in the living room in front of the TV. For this reason, Billy Graham invariably concluded his broadcasts with, "Be sure to go to church this Sunday." In his heart, evangelism church growth was his great desire for the local church. He once said, "Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion - it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ."✞
Local evangelism creates changed lives like the crusading type of evangelism. Both have their place and importance in today's society. That so many have come to genuine faith in previous decades through television, and crusade evangelism is undeniable. A questionnaire in the Liverpool area many years ago showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that among all the pastors questioned, more than half are converted or deeply influenced as a result of a Billy Graham crusade. Local church evangelism is, however, in the long run, better than crusade evangelism. It concentrates on building relationships in a worshipping group and influencing a community for Christ by using the gifts and skills of the local church body. Local evangelism is primarily faith gossiped and is genuinely for the people, of the people and by the people. Local church evangelism is the non-addictive, freedom bringing, joy expressing opium for the masses. It builds changed lives, strong families, and a healthy, prosperous nation. Let us consider why it has not been all that successful in the recent past. Let us look at some of the things which obstruct growth. In the process, we might gain fresh insights into our congregation!✞