Reaching People Unlike Us

Evangelism and Multiplication

I’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 taught 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 many in that homogenous group are not open to Christ. In obedience to Jesus, 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.

Admittedly, it can be uncomfortable for church members to receive people not like them. Yet, I believe that Christ calls us to go after the hungry ones, the ones willing to enter the banquet of King Jesus.

Look at the ministry of Jesus. In Matthew 21:12ff we read, Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.'” The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

In Moreno Valley, for example, we are seeing God drawing English speaking Hispanic people to Himself. We at Wellspring feel a mandate to reach them because they are abundant in Moreno Valley, speak English, and hungry for Jesus. But they are not like us!

Even though HUP is a common sense principle, it should be thoroughly examined in the light of Scripture. And that same Scripture teaches that Jesus wants us to reach all those who respond to the gospel message.

Joel Comiskey