The first was a prayer asking God to direct me where he wanted me to serve as a missionary.
“Okay God,” I remember praying. “I’m going to lean back, close my eyes, and the first country that pops into my head – I promise you that I will move there and spend the rest of my life trying to reach those people.”
With all the impulsive recklessness a newly converted 18 yr. old with the gift of evangelism could muster, I leaned back, cleared my mind, and waited.
Seconds later the word Greenland came to mind.
“Okay let’s try this again,” I thought.
The second prayer I regret praying was another promise. But unlike the first, this one I’ve kept.
As I was packing the Ryder truck in 1999 in preparation for our move to the suburbs of Philadelphia to start Christ’s Church of the Valley, I told God,
“I promise we will grow this church through conversion growth ONLY.”
And for the last 13 years I’ve been dealing with the joys and travails of that promise ever since.
Every church leader I know agrees that transfer growth (one Christian deciding to leave their church to attend yours) is rarely a win for the kingdom. But few take actual steps to prevent it from happening, as if the matter was completely out of our realm of influence.
Not quite sure how to make good on my promise to God (and with few models to learn from in this regard), we’ve tried 15 strategic things over the years to fend off the tide of church transfers.
15 Ways To Keep Church Hoppers From Coming Back
1. We’ve taken time during our biggest Sundays (Easter, Christmas, etc.) to de-invite Christian visitors from coming back the following Sunday.
2. We continuously remind our people NOT to invite their friends that are already Christians to our church.
3. During our introductory 101 class we take time to explain why 80% of the Christians in the room should never come back to our church.
4. When I meet visitors after the service and find out that they’re from a Bible-believing Christian church, I always encourage them to go back to their former church.
5. I tell Senior Pastors I coach that when picking elders, staff, or volunteer team leaders we always look for those converted from within the ministry of our church first.
6. If a churched visitor attends our church and we find out they have unresolved conflict in a previous church, we deny them membership until they go back, resolve the conflict, and we receive written verification from that church’s leadership.
7. We never advertise our church on the church page in the newspaper, on Christian radio stations, or in the Christian Yellow Pages.
8. Occasionally, for no reason, we instruct our ushers to punch people in the face if they look like they’re visiting from another church.*
9. We don’t design worship services that cater to consumeristic self-interested Christians who “want to be fed.”
10. We never play in a local church softball league.
11. We have poker groups at our church.
12. We offer comedy nights with a mixture of Christian and non-Christian comedians, along with a cash bar.
13. We play non-Christian music in our outdoor speakers as people walk up to the building on Sunday mornings.
14. We preach in-your-face, sin-convicting, gospel-centered, prophetic messages that call people to repent, take up their crosses and suffer for the sake of the kingdom.
15. Finally, when all else fails, I strategically mention that the Left Behind series, Amish-based Christian fiction, and Thomas Kinkade paintings are blights on the Christian community.
That usually does the trick.
*Good news – due to the overwhelming pressure we received from certain Christian groups, we stopped the practice of punching Christian visitors in the face years ago. So if you are ever in Philadelphia please feel free stop by for a visit. ☺