By Thom Rainer
When you are in your worship services next Sunday, look at the people around you.
Do they all look like you? Do they all come from the same economic backgrounds? Are they are about the same age?
If so, you are in a homogeneous church. As the old homogeneous unit principle implied, “We attract people who are like us.” That principle was a point of contention and debate for decades. Is it descriptive (a reality observed), or is it prescriptive (a strategy pursued)?
I contend that the healthy church in America will be neither. Indeed, I contend that the homogenous church is declining and dying.
Why? Here are five key reasons.
- We live in a heterogeneous culture. I grew up in the racist world of the Deep South. We whites had our own churches, places of business, and country clubs. No one else was allowed. If you went to the doctor, there were separate waiting rooms for whites and African Americans (“Coloreds”). It was abysmal. It was sickening. I know. Racism is not gone. But I am grateful that my children and grandchildren don’t even know why a person of a different color should not be their friend or colleague. The culture has changed. But not all churches have changed. Those that haven’t will die.
- Gen Z will not have a majority racial or ethnic group. Those born from 2001 to today are growing up in a generation that has no majority group. For the first time in American history, whites will be a minority with other minority groups. That is the real world. Our churches need to reflect that real world.
- The Millennials tend to avoid homogeneous churches. This generation, born between 1980 and 2000, sees homogenous churches as aberrations. It does not reflect the reality of the world in which they live. They may visit a homogeneous church, but they likely will not return.
- Cultural Christianity is dying. “Cultural Christians” is an oxymoron. We use that term to refer to unregenerate people who had some level of participation in a congregation because it was the culturally acceptable thing to do. It was good for business and politics. That world is almost gone. Cultural Christians could come to our segregated churches with no qualms, because they only attended to get business connections, to get votes, or just to be accepted as a member of good standing in the community. That world no longer exists.
- Homogeneity is a form of segregation. It is not gospel-centric. This issue is the essence of the matter. When we begin to define our churches by skin color, socioeconomic class, or any other divider, we are going counter to the gospel.
Where should we begin to move our churches to reflect the centrality of the gospel? A first step is to know your community. Do the research to find out who is really in the community around your church. We offer an excellent resource that provides over 30 pages of demographic and psychographic data on your community. Whatever path you take, get to know who is really in your community. That information will let you know if there is a divide between those who attend your church and those who live around you.
Homogeneous churches are dying. They do not reflect the gospel. It is my prayer that our churches will soon reflect this reality when we gather before the Lamb of God:
After this I looked and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10, CSB)
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on Dec. 4. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and ten grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.