27 Jauary 2015

In the first half of the 20th century, most world mission took place in mission stations where locals could come and meet and stay with the missionaries, receive help, and of course, would hear the good news of Jesus Christ. But in 1954, Donald McGavran challenged all that with his book, Bridges of God. McGavran argued:

“Men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers”.

McGavran challenged us to speak to people in their “heart language”, to learn the language and culture of the people you are trying to reach, in order to improve understanding. He argued that we are trying to reach people, not individuals. As such he became the father of the “Homogeneous Unit Principle” where mission, and then church, is targeted at a particular group of people in order to speak to their heart language.

Today we have many Homogeneous units, such as Chinese church, or Indonesian church; or youth church or church for young families; or working class or middle class church. All of these are examples of the homogeneous unit principle in action.

But this leaves us with some tension. The image of heaven in Revelation 7 is people from every nation, tribe, people and language crying out the glories of Jesus. So as we look at reaching into the multi-ethnic, multi-social community around us what should we do?

  • Do we adopt an International or multi-social model, aiming to reach everyone at once?
  • Do we adopt the Homogeneous Unit Principle, focusing on a particular audience?
  • Or do we create multiple mono-cultural congregations in fellowship with each other?

There is no easy answer. The International model looks like heaven but has few runs on the board. Then, to quote Archie Poulos, the Homogeneous Unit Principle “is a sociological reality but a wicked master”. The Homogeneous Unit Principle is generally successful at growing congregations but faces the challenge of future generations no longer wanting to cross the racial, linguistic or class barriers required to stay in that church. If the church closes, or the person moves, it is often difficult to get them to attend another church.

Whatever models we adopt, we must work on bringing people to complete maturity, emptying ourselves to serve others, crossing racial, linguistic and class barriers to make Christ known. In we only reach people like us, we’ll never reach the peoples around us. We will need to work hard on positive discrimination – investing time in the people we’re hoping to reach. Finding them, gospelling them and equipping them to be missionaries to the people whose heart language they already speak.

I’m hoping you will indulge me one thing. Look around your congregation. What racial, linguistic and class group is the majority? Are there any other significant minorities? If so, is there someone from that minority who you could invest in? Is there someone whose heart language you could learn to make it happen?

Your brother in Christ

Jim Douglass