What happens to homogenous churches?

One obvious criticism of McGavran’s homogenous church growth theory is that it merely perpetuates existing social segregation and denies the biblical imperatives for the integration of Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free through faith in Christ crucified. McGavran counters these accusations with the following arguments:

  • Class and racial segregation continue in spite of Christian faith, not because of it. The Christian in whose heart Christ dwells inclines toward brotherhood as water runs down a valley.
  • The creation of narrow Churches, selfishly centred on the salvation of their own kith & kin only, is never the goal.
  • Jews and Gentiles – or other classes and races who scorn and hate one another – must be discipled before they can be made really one.

Secular sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith take a very negative view of homogenous congregations with a particular emphasis on black and white churches in the USA. They state that

two important ways that groups provide meaning and belonging are by establishing group boundaries and social solidarity. A group is a group, in part, by virtue of its difference from other groups; put another way, by virtue of its internal similarity.

They argue that homogenous churches thrive because

in the process of competing, of developing niches and assuring internal strength, congregations come to be made up of highly similar people.

Congregations with a broad and inclusive policy fail because lack of homogeneity causes

loss of membership, commitment and group solidarity.

If McGavran is right, however, churches which are established to reach a homogenous people group will not stay homogenous for long, because the gospel of Christ crucified will define the group boundary for church membership and create social solidarity between disparate people groups.

Amanda and I were initially the only non-Tamil members of a 60 year-old Tamil church in Singapore. The church was established during the second world war to reach Tamil speaking Singaporeans with the gospel. We loved our brothers and sisters there and are still in contact with some. We noticed over time that Christian converts and expatriate Tamils who joined the church were not discipled to become one with Chinese Singaporean Christians, as McGavran believes they ought to be. The reason for this was the church depended on remaining racially homogenous in order to attract new Tamil members. The result of homogenisation, though it may never have been stated or envisaged at the outset, was a culturally isolated church where the teaching failed to challenge racial prejudice and immaturity amoungst members was perpetuated.

Sadly, where homogenous churches are planted, they can quickly establish group boundaries and social solidarity based on their homogeneity, which is idolatry. They reject the teaching of the bible in order to remain homogenous and so deny the gospel of Christ crucified for sin both to church members and to the watching world.

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2 Responses to What happens to homogenous churches?

  1. Pingback: Free Online Resources for Intercultural Ministry - Face to Face Intercultural

  2. Dick Colenso says:

    The Galatians 3 passage reflects a perspective that is not a reality in this world. As a matter of fact there are “male” and “female”, etc. and the Epistles recognize those distinctions to the point where they actually give specific counsel. Matthew 19 states, from the lips of Jesus, that in creation “GOD MADE THEM MALE and FEMALE.” I assume that the passage speaks to the mature attitude and spirit of the true believer but not to the exclusion of a strategy which limits the number one objective of all the Scriptures – bringing a person into a redemptive and reconciled relationship with God and the subsequent discipleship Paul scolded about in 1 Corinthians 3 when he found it absent.

    Since when would a long and proven evangelism strategy be subordinated to anything else.

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