We live in an incredibly mobile culture. Whereas a mere 50 years ago, most people never moved more than 100 miles from their place of birth, today people move all over the country, and in some cases all over the world in search of employment, happiness, and even escape from their past.
While not always the most important thing on people’s minds when they move, there does come the time after one moves, when they need to find a new church home. Unfortunately, while this should be one of the first things people think about before they move, it normally ends up being the last; but that is another post.
This post deals with the issue of actually finding a new church to worship in. Now in the past, there more of a cradle to grave approach to religion: if you were born Lutheran, you died Lutheran; if you were born Roman Catholic, you died Roman Catholic; if you were born Methodist, you died Methodist. The only time one would change their religion was if they married someone of a different faith.
But today, this cradle to grave approach to faith is no more. Now moving means not only living in a new house with a new job; it also means trying out a new church, even if that church is of a different faith.
The reality is that people now look not for the church with the confession that they believe, but with the programs that they want. A family may look for the church with the exciting youth program as opposed to the church with the correct view on the Lord’s Supper. A couple may look for the church with the most social groups, as opposed to the church that believes the Word of God to be inspired.
So whereas a former congregation could expect a letter in the mail requesting a transfer; today that letter never comes. And there may or may not be a letter stating that former members have joined a church of a different confession.
This plays out on many different levels. One congregation will carry people on their books for years, not knowing what ever happened to its former members; and another congregation will never get a new family that has already been catechized in the faith and can join immediately.
And it is here that we see the death of the transfer between congregations. Sure, some will still occur when those who are committed to the confession of the church move; but for the most part the transfer will go the way of the dinosaurs.
A transfer from one congregation to another is the equivalent of a letter of recommendation for a new job. The transfer is the statement that these people have been catechized, they have been taught the faith, and they will be a blessing to your congregation as they were to ours.
Now those who take new member classes and are welcomed through confirmation or re-affirmation of faith are also good people, and they will soon develop into strong and faithful members, but that takes time; especially if they are coming from a non-church background.
The local congregation will still grow, but it will grow through new member classes and adult confirmations and professions of faith. All well and good; but how many of those who go through said classes will move on to the next church when they move again? And how many of those who again take said classes, will be re-introducing themselves to a faith that they left three moves ago?
Sadly, the days of the transfer may be over.