According to the latest research, 92.5% of churches in the United States are racially segregated.1 In fact churches today are ten times more segregated than the neighborhoods in which they sit, and twenty times more segregated than nearby public schools. Does this concern you?
Such evidence, then, confirms what simple human observation indicates: local churches in the United States are systemically segregated; or, to put it more bluntly, institutional racism has become a presumptive reality in the local church today—an unintended consequence of the widespread propagation of what is known as the Homogeneous Unit Principle (HUP). According to the principle’s progenitor, Donald McGavran, the HUP recognizes that "[People] like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers." But for decades, this principle has been promoted as something more: the modus operandi for those who would plant, grow or develop a successful church. The question we should ask, however, is this: Is the Homogeneous Unit Principle biblical?
So what are the unintended consequences of homogeneous churches? According to sociologist Michael Emerson, author of the book, Divided By Faith, homogeneous churches:
- Reproduce inequality;
- Encourage oppression;
- Strengthen racial division, and
- Heighten political separation.
Think not? Consider just one example to support these claims, that churches with a median income of more than $60,000 a year grew by 17.6% between 2000 and 2009 while churches with a median income of under $30,000 declined by 4.3%.
What may surprise you, however, is what Donald McGavran himself had to say about the HUP: “It is primarily a missionary and an evangelistic principle." And in an apparently prophetic admonition, McGavran also warned that with any misunderstanding or application of the HUP, “there is a danger that congregations…become exclusive, arrogant, and racist. That danger must be resolutely combated." Such quotes from within the context of his life and ministry clearly reveal McGavran’s understanding of the HUP: what it is and what it is not. More importantly, McGavran’s words reveal his expectation that a healthy local church will reflect God’s heart for all people in ways that go beyond mere mission statements and the race and class distinctions of this world that so often and otherwise divide.
In my new highly innovative eBook, Should Pastors Accept or Reject the Homogeneous Unit Principle?, you will learn that the HUP was never intended by McGavran as a strategy for drawing more believers into church or for growing a church in the sense of how most are taught to think of it today. Rather, the HUP was originally mined and refined as “a strategy to reach unbelievers—a missionary principle” according to Donald McGavran, himself. Yet from its introduction in the United States, the HUP has played right into our natural, all-too-American, desire to become real big, real fast: and it works. In other words, to grow a big church, you simply target a specific people group: give them the music they want, the facilities they desire, in the neighborhoods where they live, and “they” will come…whoever “they” are
Undeniably, churches do grow fastest when they’re homogeneous. Still the question remains: Is this God’s will and best for the church?