Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Ethics of Receiving Members from Another Church - (Part 2)

Twice in PCC’s eleven year history we have had a large influx of members from another church. The first time this occurred was about five years ago, (two years prior to the event I wrote about yesterday). It began with a single individual who visited our church on his own. He had left his church looking for ‘something more’ (his words), came to PCC and liked what he found. Since he was free and unattached I was glad to share our vision with him. He demonstrated immediate buy-in and we became close friends very fast. Eventually he began to solicit his friends and acquaintances from his former church to leave and come to PCC. Suddenly I found myself in a very uncomfortable position; a friend of mine was deliberately pulling members out of another church, which is something I feel very strongly about and is against my personal convictions.

I specifically remember being at his house one evening for a cookout. He invited me and a few others from PCC to come over. Also on his invitation list that night was a large group of people from his former church. It was a set up; intentionally designed to get us to mingle together and hopefully draw them to PCC after meeting me in an informal setting. To this day I can vividly remember the guilt I felt that night. I didn’t plan this event, I didn’t want to be a party to it, but there I was in the middle of it. I went home that night feeling like I had done something wrong. Building a church by raiding the pews of my neighbor is, for me, downright sinful.

  • Aside from robbing my neighbor, transfer growth is weak growth. People who leave churches for no good reason often arrive at their new church with a lot of emotional and spiritual baggage. That baggage usually re-manifests itself in their new church and becomes a drain on the pastor, the vision, and the church’s resources. It only takes a few people – with unresolved issues – to keep a full time pastor very tied up with counseling sessions, gripe sessions, and conflict over the direction of the church. Ask me how I know this.

  • Transfer growth is also uncommitted growth. Church hopping is a manifestation of some inability to become a part of the body of Christ. Unless the hurt is healed or the dysfunction cured, these transferees will run headlong into the same confrontations in their new location as they faced in their last church. Building a house on transferring members is a fruitless endeavor. What transfers into your church will surely transfer out.

I made an attempt to contact their former pastor. Much to my chagrin I found out that he was leaving and going to another church out of state. This presented a new dilemma for me – their former pastor wasn’t concerned about getting them back, and now I was stuck with them! Suffice it to say that PCC experienced both of these negative consequences (weak growth & uncommitted growth) from this group of people. It was very, very bitter for me. I suppose I got what I deserved; and had reaped what I had sown. The best I could do, at this point, was to accept them and shepherd them the best as I could without allowing them to hijack our church.

For a couple of years things coasted along just fine, with friendships being formed along the way. It looked like it just might work out. But it didn’t. Eventually rumblings of discontent could be heard. Gripe sessions kept me pinned down and discussions over the direction of our church were constant. The emotional dysfunction and spiritual baggage that these people brought with them to PCC was now showing itself on full display. Our church was on the edge of being hijacked! A conflict ensued, but the mission & vision of PCC won the day.

True to form, this group of people left PCC the same way they had come – looking for greener pastures. To the person, every one of them left. Every single one. Not a single one remained with us.

The best way I know to pastor and build a church is through the honest labor of conversion growth. Nothing takes the place of reaching people for Christ; and once converted, discipling them. For the church, that translates into dedicated workers for the Lord, and life-long friendships for the pastor.

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