Regardless of their opinion of the college transfer portal, pastors should avoid trying to grow a congregation using the church transfer portal.
By Aaron Earls
The transfer portal and recent changes to the regulations on student-athletes transferring schools have fundamentally altered college athletics.
Previously, college coaches concentrated their time on bringing in the best high school players. Now, instead of recruiting freshmen, college coaches are looking to attract the best players from other universities.
Those players leave one school to attend another for a host of reasons. There may be issues with family that draw them closer to home, a coaching change at their former school, increased opportunity at a new school, or, with the recent changes that allow players to earn income using their name, image, and likeness, the ability to get paid more somewhere else.
Everyone has their own opinions about how those changes have affected college athletics. Most often those opinions coincide with whether those changes have positively or negatively impacted their team recently.
Regardless of your opinion of the college transfer portal, pastors should avoid trying to grow their congregation using the church transfer portal.
A recent Lifeway Research study of church switchers found 53% of U.S. churchgoers have changed churches at some point as an adult. Three in 5 who switched said they did so because of a residential move. But many regular churchgoers (40%) decided to enter the church transfer portal to find something new in their town.“Pastors may not have much control over whether someone leaves another church to join theirs, but they can avoid actively seeking to coerce members of another congregation to leave.” — @WardrobeDoor Click To Tweet
As with college athletes, there are a host of reasons a churchgoer may look to make a change. Pastors and leaders may not have much control over whether someone leaves another church to join theirs, but they can avoid actively seeking to coerce members of another congregation to leave.
Here are three reasons to avoid growing your church through the transfer portal.
They may bring their discontentment with them
Again, some people may leave their previous church for what they believe to be a legitimate reason. If you’re actively seeking to draw people away from another church, however, you’re more likely to attract those who are disgruntled with their current situation. Not all of those reasons will be valid.
This may increase your church attendance in the short term, but it may also increase your problems in the longer term. If they left because they didn’t feel they had enough control or influence previously, they are going to expect that to be different now. Whatever their problems were, their expectations are going to be higher in their new church, especially if you recruited them.
The same will eventually happen to you
You live by the transfer, you die by the transfer. If you foster disloyalty to a church by actively drawing members from another congregation, you shouldn’t be surprised if the people you bring in are in fact disloyal.“If you foster disloyalty to a church by actively drawing members from another congregation, you shouldn’t be surprised if the people you bring in are in fact disloyal.” — @WardrobeDoor Click To Tweet
No church will be able to make every member completely happy all the time. Those you poached from another church will be prone to leave the minute things get difficult for them at your church. Maybe it’s something you did or maybe it’s something completely out of your control. But they’re likely to be the first ones to jump ship when anything rocks the boat.
You aren’t actually growing the kingdom
Most importantly, addition by transfer is not actually addition to the kingdom of God. Adding members through actively seeking transfers is not the same as leaving the 99 to go after the one lost sheep. It’s like waiting for another shepherd to look away and going behind him to take some from his flock. Sheep swapping is not kingdom-advancing.“Sheep swapping is not kingdom-advancing.” — @WardrobeDoor Click To Tweet
Instead of using time and resources to convince those who are already attending church somewhere to join your congregation, invest in reaching those who are far from Christ and have no church home. That grows your church and, more importantly, God’s.
Some church switching is inevitable, and not all of it is inherently wrong. But pastors should avoid making transfer growth a goal of their congregation. Instead of reaching into the church transfer portal to find a new member, reach into the community to see the lost come to Christ. Disciple them to go out and make new disciples in the same way. That’s the mark of a winning church team.
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.