You may never have heard of Donald McGavran but if you look at the churches you know you may see his theory of church growth at work. McGavran was a third generation missionary kid who was brought up in India where he observed that men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers. This insight led McGavran to develop a theory of culturally aware mission practices and theories known as the homogenous church growth principle (HCGP). Eddie Gibbs summarises that McGavran developed a ‘people-group’ approach to evangelism, not as a device for segmenting the market to invite people like us but as a strategy for penetrating the mission fields of the world. He was interested in meeting people on their own turf and identifying with the seeker. The Homogeneous Church Growth movement (HCGM) has been hugely influential in the way we view mission in all areas of the world, including the urban west.
McGavran’s main claim is that people refuse Christ not for religious reasons, not because they love their sins, but precisely because they love their brethren…[the] main problem is how to present Christ so that men can truly follow Him without traitorously leaving their kindred. From this observation, McGavran developed a church growth model that encourages the establishment of churches within homogenous units, churches which are designed to exploit existing social networks and stratification. McGavran notes that like reaches like and this is most effective when people are not required to leave their homogeneous unit and join other people. He notes that people prefer to join churches whose members look, talk and act like themselves. It is this “people consciousness”, according to McGavran, which greatly influences when, how and to what extent the gospel will flow through that segment of social order. Thus, when allocating mission resources, homogeneous units are labelled by the HCGM as “resistant” or “receptive” to the gospel and such units may coexist in one geographical area. One great fallacy, according to McGavran, is that people suppose that the church grows in a geographical area, when as a matter of fact it always grows in people themselves – usually a homogeneous unit of society.
The positive marks of the HCGM include rapid growth of first generation churches. This growth marks them out as distinctive and makes their method attractive to mission minded church leaders. I am going to blog on the positive implications of McGavran’s work for mission but show that homogenous churches that form within multicultural societies deny, by their very existence, that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone and lead long term to Christian immaturity.
Other posts on the homogenous church growth principle:
What happens to homogenous churches?
Getting the direction of homogenous growth right.
Church Leadership and homogenous church.
Anti-homogenous church in the Sermon on the Mount.
Anti-homogenous church in Romans.
Anti-homogenous church in Ephesians.