GROWTH & Good/Bad Reasons for Church Transfer Growth (+ term defined)

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  Below are the definitions for “transfer growth” & “conversion growth” by Donald McGavran from his book Understanding Church Growth (1970 p. 72). Primarily transfer growth is growth that comes at the expense of other churches, when churchgoers transfer their attendance to another church. As McGavran summarizes, “… transfer growth will never extend the church, for unavoidably many are lost along the way.”

EXCERPT McGavran Transfer & Conversion Growth

The reasons for “transfer growth” are many, but can include:

  1. Christians moving to a new location and transferring their attendance to a church in the new area.
  2. Christians wanting to start over in a new church, e.g. blend a family, remarriage, hurt by previous church, hurt others in a previous church, etc.
  3. Christians wanting to receive some ministry or to participate in some ministry that is not offered in their previous church.
  4. Christians want a higher quality experience that the new church (usually bigger) can offer.

The list could go on and on.  But, in the above abbreviated list my observations are that:

  • #1 and #2 are usually justifiable reasons for transfer growth.
  • #3 can often be a justifiable reason, unless the transferee is avoiding the responsibility of initiating such a ministry at their former church.
  • #4 can be the result of the person not getting the ministry they need.

But #4 can also be the result of the person focusing upon the quality, comfortableness and anonymity that comes from a church producing very high quality ministry. I have interviewed many people who transferred their attendance because of a growing personal desire for less personal engagement, less un-comfortableness and less personal effort expended.

Another, more selfless, model for discipleship is depicted in Philippians 2: 2-19 (Common English Bible, retrieved from

Imitate Christ

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God,
        he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
        by taking the form of a slave
        and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
        he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
        even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him
        and gave him a name above all names,
10     so that at the name of Jesus everyone
        in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11         and every tongue confess that
            Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Carry out your salvation

12 Therefore, my loved ones, just as you always obey me, not just when I am present but now even more while I am away, carry out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes. 14 Do everything without grumbling and arguing 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, innocent children of God surrounded by people who are crooked and corrupt. Among these people you shine like stars in the world 16 because you hold on to the word of life. This will allow me to say on the day of Christ that I haven’t run for nothing or worked for nothing. 17 But even if I am poured out like a drink offering upon the altar of service for your faith, I am glad. I’m glad with all of you. 18 You should be glad about this in the same way. Be glad with me!