“Stealing sheep” or “sheep stealing” refers to the practice of a Pastor and or congregation ‘taking/enticing away’ the members of another congregation. This is a distasteful practice that pastors and churches should discourage. My concern is not about leaving church, its with taking away members.
Sheep stealing is not the same thing as a common change or transfer of membership. It usually has a dark side. Whenever there is a steady flow or trickle of members leaving a congregation to join another, usually newer church in the neighborhood there is something or someone behind it.
Sometimes, it is genuine disgust and protest against policies or practices of the leadership or conflicts within the congregation that causes some members to leave their church. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself. Frankly, I’d rather do the same than stay and cause problems for the congregation. However, as one author puts it its not the leaving, its how you leave the church. Unfortunately, with the present age of the ‘hype-filled’ church, it is a migration to another church looking to find something they don’t have at their church that bothers me about this whole issue.
Taking away the members of another congregation can be ‘cultish’, counterproductive, and dreadfully misleading. Encouragement of ‘cultish’ behaviour is to be avoided. In this case, members leave one congregation to attend another, pulled by the personality of the new congregation or the old congregation with a new leader. Pastors should discourage this. It takes humility and maturity to tell someone to move in response to God’s action, not because of a personality.
It is counterproductive when churches are distracted by rivalry, while millions of persons miss hearing the Gospel. The body of Christ is not built up when Christians are playing “musical chairs” with church membership. This church hopping is poor Stewardship and dishonesty in some cases. If we take a closer look, we’ll find we are the problem not the place of worship or the members.
The practice of stealing members from one congregation to increase the numbers yours is misleading as it relates to statistical claims on global church growth. Except in countries where the church is growing as a result of persons leaving from one religion or no religion to Christianity, then figures in global growth in Christianity are not altogether accurate.
Although not in all instances, I am aware of some statistics that gives the impression that Christianity is booming in some countries when it is in fact not so. The real situation reflects that Christians are merely switching membership. So one church grows at the expense of another church.
Take the sweep of “charismatic/Pentecostal type” churches in Latin America as an example. While churches so labeled as Pentecostal or Charismatic are bursting at the seams in some countries, their increase in membership is in line with a similar decrease in the “mainline” or older congregations like the Roman Catholic Church. The growth of one is at the expense of another, while the un-churched remain untouched by the message. And unimpressed with our divisiveness. The exception as I said earlier, is in those countries where there is a switch from another religion to become Christian.
Church leaders and their congregations need to stop this practice of deliberately taking away the members of one congregation to fill their pews. It is laziness of the worst sort. There are many persons who need to hear the word. They are far from impressed by our rivalry and the spreading of conflicting messages.
The world is confused, while our egos are being massaged. Churches and leaders that are engaged in this practice of stealing members might see numerical growth, but not growth in God’s grace.
Do you know what fuels the numerical growth or loss in the membership of your church? Please share your experience with us by leaving a comment below.