The latest issue of Ockenga Connections from Gordon-Conwell has arrived, and the lead article is on Stealing Sheep. It’s written by William Chadwick, who authored the book Stealing Sheep: The Church’s Hidden Problems of Transfer Growth.
In found the article to be very disturbing. Some of his points:
- The Church Growth Movement, which has spawned Mega- and Meta- churches, has not helped the conversion growth rate of churches.
- Transfer growth is an oxymoron, because there is no net growth within the Kingdom. “There are no new converts, no baptisms, no expansion of God’s knowledge in the world, and no salvation fruit from this practice…Individual churches can grow through transfer growth, yet because there are no conversions, this growth produces a flat line in the ‘Kingdom count.”
- Numbers have become the “obsessive focus of the church.” The two most important numbers are attendance and offering. “When these two areas become the standards by which we measure success, church staffs are pressured into developing programming that focuses on positively increasing these benchmarks. Conversion growth charts poorly; transfer growth produces the desired result…That we grow becomes more important than how we grow.”
Chadwick concludes, “Stealing sheep has compromised our mission.”
I’m ordering the book and hope to review it.
If Chadwick is right, then many of the churches that look successful are succeeding only in drawing the already converted. This turns church into a shell game, and transforms Christians into consumers. His research has huge implications for churches and how we think of the Church Growth Movement.
In a way, there’s nothing really new here – but if we take what Chadwick says seriously, the implications are huge.