Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Homogeneous Unit Principle

In his book, The Bridges of God, Donald McGavran discusses one of the foundational truths of the church growth movement – that when people accept Christ, they generally do not want to cross racial, linguistic, or class barriers. From this finding, the concept of the Homogeneous Unit Principle was developed, and later propagated by McGavran’s student, C. Peter Wagner. According to Wagner, a Homogeneous Unit may be defined as a section of society in which all the members have some characteristic in common. This common characteristic typically has to do with race, language, class, or custom. Church growth advocates argue that when planning evangelism strategies, one should closely examine homogeneous units, and attempt to focus upon only one during the course of your evangelism. Practitioners of this principle often employ strategies similar to Rick Warren’s strategy at Saddleback. Discover the largest homogeneous unit in their community and identifying them as "Saddleback Sam" or "Saddleback Sally." And then gearing every aspect of the church toward reaching that group.

Proponents of the Homogeneous Unit Principle argue that this method is the best strategy for evangelism for two primary reasons. First, because it closely follows the evangelistic strategy employed by Jesus during his incarnation. It was God’s love for the world that prompted the incarnation (John 3:16). However, to reach the whole world, Jesus began with a defined target audience. His niche was among the Israelites. He ate, dressed, spoke, and lived like an Israelite. It is no surprise, then, that his tactical plan started with Israelites as his target audience. When selecting his disciples, Jesus remained in his homogeneous unit. No Gentile, Samaritan, Idumean, or even a Hellenistic Jew was part of the Twelve. Jesus gathered an inner circle of men from his target audience to begin winning the world. Second, pragmatically, Wagner argues we should employ the Homogeneous Unit Principle because it is a very effective means of evangelization. In his book, Understanding Church Growth, Wagner cites examples from India, Taiwan, Mexico and Denver to illustrate that when the Homogeneous Unit Principle is properly applied, the gospel quickly spreads.

Critics of the Church Growth Movement have often centered their critique upon the Homogeneous Unit Principle. Their critique often echoes John MacArthur’s question of why most churches always seem to focus upon white middle class families in their late 20’s and early 30’s? Critics of the homogeneous unit principle argue that focusing upon only one people group will lead to a deepening of the already sharply segregated religious landscape in the United States. Some, such as Liston Pope argued that the Homogeneous Unit Principle retarded the process of congregational integration that must take place to reflect the true nature and purpose of the church.

Both McGavran and Wagner recognized the fact that, if misused, the Homogeneous Unit Principle could lead to more segregated churches, thus their admonition to use the principle wisely. In addition both Wagner and McGavran both stress that disciples should be taught that all Christians are one in Christ, and thus should not divide based upon race or class. However, in the end Wagner recognized that the Homogeneous Unit principle was such a valuable tool, it should be used even if it created racial discord. Wagner notes ""If strenuous evangelism means to multiply homogeneous churches, multiply them . . .. The evangelistic mandate is more important than the cultural mandate."


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