Five Reasons the Homogeneous Church Is Declining and Dying

December 4, 2017

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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)

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51 Comments

  • With respect to my previous post regarding “same sex monogamous unions,” (in reference to homosexuals in the church) celibacy is implied, although not specifically implied, perhaps it (celibacy) should have been stated outright. The LGBT community is quick to remind us that not all our heterosexual unions are monogamous either and the divorce statistics prove it, sadly, even within the church.
    I pray that this clears up any misunderstanding or misperception on this subject.
    I want to remain in good standing with my local church and the Southern Baptist Convention.

  • So homogenous churches are dying, but do the homogenous churches just die, or do they morph into heterogenous churches? How can they make the transition? If you’re in a community that is half spanish-speaking and half-white, how do you merge? Can you even do it without creating a lesser “spanish church” within an English-speaking church? If a bunch of “old white guys” go out evangelizing in a black neighborhood, is anyone going to take them seriously? Should we be looking at church mergers where a white church and a black church move into the same building? Having been in a lot of churches that are usually solidly one color, I can tell you that the black services and white services in the Deep South have evolved distinct styles. How do we bridge that gap without scaring off our faithful devotees to a certain style?

  • I don’t see our Latino, Asian and black brothers and sisters in Christ soul searching to the same extent as we Anglo Christians with respect to being racially and culturally relevant. Our respective memories, cultures and histories are very different. What we have in common is our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Why is the burden on we white believers to be the peacemakers?

  • Thanks for this Thom. Our church has been on a multicultural journey for about 10-12 years. Over the past five years, it has increased quickly. We are now 50% immigrant with 24 nations/cultures represented in our body of 250. We all stand in awe of what God has done. We are excited to see what God accomplishes in 2018 as we place the focus on reaching our community with our language groups as the catalyst. Thanks for spreading the word.

  • Steven Curtis, you nailed it. Not what some want to hear, but so true!

    There is some other things that have to be factored into the discussion:

    Where there is no local mega church gobbling up the congregations, many of those small “we all look alike” churches are thriving. Neighborhood churches that are reflecting the racial, ethnic, and cultural mix in their neighborhood may be diverse or not diverse and not be declining or dying.

    Then there is something more theological to consider. Often we speak as those “just do this or just stop doing that” and the lost will be in our churches in droves, getting saved and serving.

    But, to an Arminian, there is the fact of their free will. God surely did everything right and yet Adam and Eve fell. No matter what we do, if you are Arminian, you must recognize some will exercise their free will and reject Christ.

    And if you are Calvinist, you have to recognize no matter what you do, you won’t win the nonelect. If you live in a time of lots of those who will never be saved, you have to face the fact you cannot and will not reach them.

    It is good to be culturally sensitive as long as we don’t compromise the gospel. And surely we can learn some better ways of presenting it, of maintaining our facilities or ditching them altogether, of loving people without condoning sin.

    But in the end, no matter what we do or how well we do it, no matter our root theology, it will always come down to an individual soul dealing with and being dealt with by God.

    The outcome is not in our hands.

    We are just the messenger.

  • Dr. Rainer:

    I’m glad to see the Southern Baptist Convention continuing to come to grips with our segregated racist past. In recent years we have moved from being a 1950s denomination to a 1970s one in the 21st century. I’m 64 years of age (not old) and have attended SBC churches for 60 years.

    For the last year, my wife and I have been (out of necessity) attending a nearby United Methodist church. I have a family history of Baptists, Methodists and Episcopalians. Of these three, historically, Methodists and Episcopalians have had more of a social conscience; for instance, the ordination of women. We Southern Baptists will be forced in the near future to prayerfully consider, at the denominational level, the ordination of women as pastors and deacons. Deaths and retirements of ministers will be the reason for this.

    On the subject of homosexuals in the church, while I draw the line at the ordination of practicing homosexuals and lesbians and same sex “marriage,” there is something to be said (short of sanctioning them) for same sex monogamous unions for those within the church outside of leadership positions. We need to stop sticking our heads in the sand pretending that “good” Christians don’t struggle with same sex attraction and transgender issues. They have been among us from the time that the apostle Paul welcomed repentant homosexuals into the church at Corinth two thousand years ago. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

  • Alex Clayton says on

    Thank you Dr. Rainier for this article. As someone as “ancient” as you are, one of the wonderful things that is happening is that church is becoming aware of it’s inability to to reach the new world with its historic homogeneous evangelistic approach. Except for racism itself, the church justified segregation through the Church Growth mantra of “like kind attracts like kind’. Even in the Purpose Driven Church there was the idea of “Saddleback Sam”. There are five suggestions that church may want to consider when making this transition to reaching all groups:

    1. Only 8-10% of all churches are multi-ethnic in make up. (Multiethnic defines as having at least 20% of another ethnic group than the majority ethnic makeup)
    2. Established homogeneous churches should consider joining with another homogeneous group (that is different from them) and plant with the new mission in mind, while they are evolving. Easier to start a new movement than to try to change one. It will take years for a church that is all white to reach one black or vice versa. Also, if there is a language barrier.
    3. Most urban churches today are not made up from the community that surrounds the facility. They come from miles to attend their church. (Make sure a church is honest with how many live in the community of the facility). This is especially true in urban areas.
    4. Do not be driven by social, cultural, ethnic, or political diversity. Stay focused on the Word. Remember that God and Satan have something in common; they are no respecter of persons. If a church is truly carrying out the Great Commission it will look like the world.
    5. The goal is to make disciples, not to be diverse or multiethnic

    If you are truly interested in changing then pick up Derwin Gray’s book, The HD: High Definition Leader. “Building multi-ethnic churches in an multi-ethnic world

  • My, my, Thom…you sure know how to kick off the week, don’t you! Seems like you hit a nerve with your excellent and needed post. Imagine that, even being called a “liberal.” I suspect your skin is now several layers thicker after reading the pushback on your post.

    Thanks for this, Thom. It is needed. I’d even call it prophetic. I’m fortunate to be in a very diverse downtown church in a small city. We have rescue mission folks who call our church home. We have about the same percentage of Afro-American members as there are in the community. We’re cultivating a warm relationship with the historic AME church next door. We don’t have any hispanic folks, but their population is rather small in our community. But we also have great diversity in our economic profile, including millionaire farmers to street people and everything in between.

    It is a rich environment in which I am frequently finding my assumptions challenged. I’m blessed.

    How can homogenous churches diversify? That should be a follow-up blog after you’ve recovered from this one. I have found recruiting diversity for platform and governance leadership to be a powerful strategy in broadening the makeup of the churches I’ve served.

    Thanks for your excellent and necessary post.

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