I have worked within the service industry in some way, shape or form for (almost) all of my working life. With this experience I have had the opportunity to encounter most expressions of culture here in the U.S. These experiences seem hit a road block at most expressions of Christs’ family that I see. It is truly difficult to see and understand how this principle works in the real world.
In the book entitles “The Bridges of God” McGavern states: ‘People become Christian fastest when least change of race or clan is involved’. Additionally, in Understanding Church Growth, which he co-wrote with C. Peter Wagner, this observation has become the ‘Homogeneous Unit Principle’ which we have been discussing for the last few weeks. Empirical evidence, they argue, ‘people like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers’. As a result homogenous churches grow fastest. Homogeneous churches are those in which all the members are from a similar social, ethnic or cultural background. People prefer to associate with people like themselves – ‘I like people like me’. So we should create homogenous churches to be effective in reaching people.
McGavran’s analysis was largely based on rural missions in India where the caste system is normative, and where neighborhoods (villages) are usually cultural homogenous. He was observing how groups are transformed by the gospel. The transference of cultural homogeneity to urban contexts were neighborhoods are not culturally homogenous becomes more problematic.
Most churches are homogenous to some extent. People choose churches on the basis of worship-style, denominational allegiance, theological emphasis and even cultural background. As soon as you choose to operate in one language you have created an homogenous group to some extent. The real world result of this in the UK has been to leave significant sectors of the population untouched by the gospel. Likewise evangelicalism in America is largely middle-class, as a result our evangelism revolves around our friendships so excluding those outside our circle of acquaintance. More significantly still, our church life and evangelism reflect a middle-class culture. Homogeneous groups do seem to be effective in evangelism, but they are by definition exclusive rather than inclusive.
Outside of the church this is not a normative practice. Take for instance McDonald’s, $5bucks (a.k.a. Starbucks), or you fill in the blank you do not see people choosing said restaurants solely by there ,musical-style, food emphasis or even cultural background. People go to these places to simply eat food. I see most races represented at restaurants with messages much weaker than the Gospel yet they attract the diversity that the church lacks. My main criticism of the homogenous unit principle is that it denies the reconciling nature of the gospel and the church. It weakens the demands of Christian discipleship and it leaves the church vulnerable to partiality in ethnic or social conflict. It has been said that ‘the homogenous unit principles is fine in practice, but not in theory. So my question for you is simply this:
- Do you agree or disagree with the H.U.P.?
- Why or why not?