Rethinking the Homogenous Unit Principle

JOELI’m a student of church growth, earning my doctorate degree under Peter Wagner, who took over the Fuller chair of church growth from Donald McGavran, the founder of church growth. The homogenous principle is one of the cornerstones of the church growth movement. It states that people like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers. Donald McGavran, who first HOMOGENOUStaught this principle, wrote, “It takes no great acumen to see that when marked differences of color, stature, income, cleanliness, and education are present, men understand the gospel better when expounded by their own kind of people. They prefer to join churches whose members look, talk, and act like themselves”(McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980, p. 227).

Is it time to rethink this principle? Granted, most of us would agree that there’s a lot of common sense in this princple. Yet, it’s also been abused. Some have used it to claim that we should only reach people “like us” because this is the best way to grow Christ’s church. Jesus seemed to contradict this principle in the parable in Matthew 22:8ff when he said ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” .

Let me get specific. Here in Moreno Valley, CA, where I’m planting a cell church, there is a mosaic of nationalities, income levels, education, and social status. Up to this point, we have naturally been reaching the white, middle class. Yet, we are also discovering that some of our white homogenous group are the least flexible and hungry for ministry. We’ve felt the need to go to the street corners and invite anyone (especially the needy) to come to the banquet of the King.

Some of our people are not “comfortable” in receiving people who are not quite like them. Yet, I believe the calling of any church planter is to go after the hungry ones, the ones willing to enter the banquet of King Jesus. Would you agree? Disagree? What has been your experience?


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