Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Transfer Growth

Tonight I'm sitting in a hotel room in Eugene, OR at the annual meeting for the Northwest Baptist Convention. Today was the pastor's conference and the speaker was Ed Stetzer. Many of you who have heard of Stetzer think of him as a brilliant statistical mind, author of too many books, and a big-wig at LifeWay Christian Resources. While all of those things are factual, something you may not know is that Stetzer began his journey into the world of church planting about 24 years ago in the inner city of Buffalo, New York. I definitely learned a couple things from Ed tonight from his brilliance, but I also learned a couple things from his experience.

After the main gathering of pastors there was a smaller Q&A time with Stetzer. For those who know me you won't be surprised that I asked the first question. I had read of his experience as a newly married 21 year old in the inner city of Buffalo so I asked him what were some of the good things God did while he was there. One thing he said really resonated with what I am feeling and learning and trying to trust God for here in Tacoma. He said that when you're working in the inner city, you are often living around and working with people who aren't there by choice. They're in the city because they are poor, because they are addicted, because they are struggling in someway... because they have to be, not because they want to be. If they were natural leaders they probably wouldn't be in the inner city.

That's how I feel all the time and I have told Kelli and others that most of our people don't have leadership potential (although thankfully we do have some). However, that's not an excuse not to develop leaders. Our calling is to develop potential in people and then develop that potential into leadership. It's an extra step in the process but it is completely possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. Stetzer said that 5 people from that first church plant in Buffalo are in full-time ministry today. Wow! Not to mention the church is still going. I needed that encouragement.

The second thing I learned was a revelation of sorts. The idea wasn't new but the lens through which I view the problem is new. One of the people in the crowd asked if Stetzer believed that the church planting success we are seeing in North America today is mainly due to conversion growth or transfer growth? His answer was "both." He said his goal as a church planter is to have about 50% of his congregation be new converts and the other 50% will inevitably be transfer growth. That ensures that as a church plant they will continue to reach the lost but that they will also have believers to help disciple the new converts. There needs to be a balance.

I have mentioned in many recent blogs that we don't have enough mature believers. The purpose of our most recent trip south was to find families and couples who are willing to move their lives to Tacoma. Then tonight it hit me. In our whole church I can only think of 1 person that came from another church in Tacoma. Everyone else is a new believer or was unchurched when they connected with us. That is a problem. We are nearly 100% conversion growth. While that sounds like something to be excited about it has in fact been the cause of our stifled growth recently. We desperately need some people who love Jesus in Tacoma and believe in what God has called us to do and be to jump on board with The Pathway so that we can continue to grow and multiply in our city and beyond.

Who would've thought it? I worked so hard to reach the lost and unchurched that I truly believe I pushed away many believers who would've joined the work God is doing in Tacoma. Chalk it up to another lesson learned. Thanks Mr. Stetzer. More appropriately, thanks Jesus!

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