The most effective church growth strategy of the last 50 years has been the church across town messing something up. Inevitably the other churches in town benefit from a misstep, a misunderstanding or a broken relationship due to a decision or direction taken by another congregation.
What do you do with people who come to your congregation out of those situations? There are a few things that need to be considered.
First, there is absolutely a time when people need a fresh start. They have tried to make things work and realize that for their own spiritual well being or the well being of their children it is time to move on. They have done all they can and after all that realize it is time to move on. That can be done healthily.
Second, people often believe that is the case before that is actually the case. It is more difficult to work things out or even submit to things that aren’t your first choice than it is to go someplace you already agree with. So it is easy to think that moving on is right and healthy when in fact the right and healthy thing to do would be to stick it out a while longer. It may be that this person has a hard time submitting or not getting their way and need to learn that. The only way to grow in that discipline is to stay where it is hard to stay.
Third, when I find out someone is visiting from another congregation and that the reason is because things at the other congregation were tough I first acknowledge that it might be time for them to move on and that they are always welcome to attend this new church. However, I also encourage them to first go and reconcile anything that needs reconciled because moving on without reconciliation is harmful and goes against scripture (Rom 12:16, 14:19; 2 Cor 5:18; Eph 4:32, 5:22; Col 3:13, etc). It may be that in their effort to reconcile that they get reconnected with the church they left and they don’t transition to the church I attend. That is actually a win for the kingdom.
When people arrive at your congregation, why did they come? Always be welcoming but be careful jumping too quickly to claim them because they may have some unfinished business to attend to before they are in a healthy enough spiritual state to make that change. Church growth through dysfunction is a ticking time bomb just waiting to blow up in your faith. Let us shepherd people through these transitions and not be greedy. The kingdom doesn’t demand people worship with you and not with the church across town. What is more important is their soul, relationships in Christ and spiritual development and maturity. Let us not become accomplices to unresolved conflict and instead truly embrace the ministry of reconciliation.