Early on in my ministry I learned that sheep stealing is very baaaaaaaaaad. (Do you see what I did there?) Classic dad jokes aside, everyone knows that trying to lure sheep away from one flock in order to have them join your flock is a major no no. It doesn’t do anything for the Kingdom of God and in fact, it does a great deal to erode trust and fellowship between sister churches.
So sheep stealing is definitely bad.
But what about when sheep move around on their own?
Granted that the angels throw a party whenever a full-on pagan is converted to the proper worship of God through Jesus Christ, is there any joy in heaven when a tired and hungry sheep finds his or her way to greener pastures?
Is transfer growth always bad?
The Bible doesn’t seem to think so. In the Old Testament there is a story about a time when the larger portion of the church had fallen into apostasy. For political reasons the northern tribes had split off from the House of David. Their leaders thought that the loyalty of the people might be eroded through constant pilgrimages down to the temple in Jerusalem, so they set up alternative shrines throughout their territory. They created a new priesthood, they set up idols to represent Yahweh and they told the people that they were still worshipping the God of their forefathers, but the faithful among them knew that it wasn’t so. 2 Chronicles 11:14-17 says:
“For the Levites left their common lands and their holdings and came to Judah and Jerusalem, because Jeroboam and his sons cast them out from serving as priests of the LORD, 15 and he appointed his own priests for the high places and for the goat idols and for the calves that he had made. 16 And those who had set their hearts to seek the LORD God of Israel came after them from all the tribes of Israel to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the LORD, the God of their fathers. 17 They strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and for three years they made Rehoboam the son of Solomon secure, for they walked for three years in the way of David and Solomon.” (2 Chronicles 11:14-17 ESV)
In this story, the escape of faithful people from a corrupt and apostate community is depicted as a good thing. Their ability to migrate down to Judah was a blessing to them as individuals and a blessing to the remnant of God’s true people as a whole.
I think the same basic principle remains true in our day.
Anecdotally, I’ve been hearing from pastors in my national network here in Canada that faithful, Bible believing churches that have not given in to the cultural madness on sexuality and gender and that have not been distracted away into constant political wrangling have seen a massive influx of people from neighbouring churches. Some are reporting better than 30% growth rates year over year since the end of the pandemic.
Obviously, this is not “revival”, but neither is it something to be disdained.
If faithful sheep are being led by God to abandon churches that have hardened into apostasy so as to seek out good food and godly fellowship in other places, then praise the Lord! That’s a kindness to those people! And if this migration serves to strengthen faithful churches and to warn unfaithful churches, then so much the better.
I don’t see this as a long-term trend here in Canada, but I do see it as a significant shuffle and it has changed my perspective slightly on the whole question of transfer growth. To be clear, some kinds of transfer growth will always be bad. Changing churches because you like the music better over there, or because the church down the street got themselves a handsome young pastor, or because sister so and so here has offended you is definitely bad. For the good of your soul and for the health of the church, you need to stay and press through those things.
But changing churches because your leaders have stopped feeding you the Word of God? Well, that might be the smartest decision you ever make. Voting with your feet isn’t always a bad thing. If healthy, God honouring, Christ following, Bible preaching churches are on the rise in this country, then that’s a good thing, in my book. Transfer growth of this kind can rescue the weary and strengthen the faithful — thanks be to God!
Pastor Paul Carter
If you are interested in more Bible teaching from Pastor Paul you can access the entire library of Into The Word episodes through the Audio tab on the Into the Word website. You can also download the Into The Word app on iTunes or on Google Play.
 I’m using the word “church” here in the generic sense of “assembled people of God”. Protestants have historically been comfortable referring to the Old Testament covenant community as “the church” even while they recognize considerable differences between the Old and New Testament covenant communities.