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)
Posted on December 4, 2017
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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What are the questions about team alignment.?
“The Millennials tend to avoid homogeneous churches”
This conclusion is either derived from ignorance or an outright deception to skew the argument toward Rainer’s conclusion. Milliennials aren’t avoiding homogeneous churches; they are avoiding ALL churches.
Thom, I would encourage you to start leading on solutions to the millennial problem as none have been provided or even looked into by Baptist leadership. I know much of the reason why Millennials either avoid the church or leave the church. They are:
1) A, now, bombardment of anti-Christian content in our primary education, college, and university institutions. Churches influence most students six hours a week tops. Secular institutions do so for 30+ hours each week for 13 to 17 years. Is there any wonder why youth are beginning to despise churches, Christians, or Christianity?
2) Popular web consumption site are overtly anti-Christian. Ever browsed youtube, reddit, or even wikipedia? Almost every American has and Millennials consume information from these sources daily. They do not even mask their anti-Christianity and they are have an impact on the next generation in a way that church leaders could only have dreamed of having. Presented for your observation the wiki on Moses which provides the conclusion “scholarly consensus sees Moses as a legendary figure and not a historical person.” You and I conclude Moses is a historical figure but more Millennials will visit this article on Moses before they would turn to the Bible and they are influenced accordingly. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses)
3) Social media culture’s influence skewing social debate toward anti-Biblical beliefs. Current Christian churches and organizations have been made the enemy when speaking out on any social issue from a Biblical stand point. The arguments have been framed that anyone who does not agree with a particular view is a “bigot” or “hateful.” Millennials are buying these arguments without question and when Christians counter they are already arguing from a inferior position. Facebook and Twitter’s leaders have far more influence over millennials than the 46,000 Southern Baptist churches, institutions, and entities combined.
4) Most millennials are a part of online gaming communities. Have you participated in an online gaming community? Not only are video games a distraction and a consumption of time that could be utilized plugging into a church but many of the communities are also anti-Christian or espouse anti-Christian values. Millennials log on for entertainment for their favorite game and are quickly introduced to influences toward horrid language use, the drug culture, sexually perverted language, bashing of religion, and outright blasphemy. Our millennials spend a great bulk of their time with these people and not their church youth group.
Southern Baptist leaders have failed to identify these problems let alone present solutions to them. Only 2 in 10 under the age of 30 believe that church is worth attending. 59% of millennials have left churches. The millennial generation is quickly becoming the lost generation and a homogeneous church environment has nothing to do with it.
You make some valid points. First, Christianity can’t quit fighting itself. The fastest way to sink Christianity is to get the Christians to fight each other and see each other as the enemy. Second, no one was taught how to defend the faith. Third, Jesus loved the unlovable. Too many Christians think people should be ostracized because of their sins or lifestyle.
1 Corinthians 5:1-13
Jesus Said Love your neighbor as yourself.
Exactly! Thom’s post is on target. I was hopeful the responses would take us to another level in the conversation. Sad that many prefer to argue, embrace division and peacock rather than work on solutions.
You know, I think you might do better to try to look back at what the New Testament has has to show us about Christianity, They did not have a problem with the spread of the Gospel, even though the Roman Government was opposed to it, the Jewish leaders were opposed to it, people were martyred for believing it – it simply had nothing going for it. Yet we have Peter told to take the message to the Roman Centurion against customs of the time. We had Jesus telling the disciples to go into all the world and preach, baptise & teach all they he had taught them (in word & deed). We had Jesus showing love toward the outcast, unaccepted, the scum of society. These are who we are supposed to be ministering to irrespective of ethnicity, or status. Then we have Paul telling us that we are all one in Christ part of the body of Christ – again not racists here please. In Revelation we have the new heaven and new earth and the multitude from every nation and tribe singing praises together. It is time to stop blaming “the others” & “technology” & governments for the failure to spread the gospel and for the falling away of our offspring. It is time to recognise that the Gospel is still the power of God for salvation and that we (Christians) have been charged with the task of sharing this good news with all – irrespective of race, culture, religious beliefs, old or young, rich or poor, criminal or good citizen, & irrespective of gender or morality too.
I think Thom Rainer is on the right path.
This article addresses the current liberal bias. Being the same is all bad. You must be really old to have seen the things you write about. I have lived in the deep south for nearly 40 years and never have run into mainstream hate. Always seemed like a media event that happened someplace else. I was born in Canada a place where disconnected elitists are still in control. White people still live in white areas, Asians live in Asian areas etc. I ask my white business friends just how many clients of different nationalities they have? the answer is either none or very few. Not much mixing in business. Or at church. There is nothing wrong with an all one color church, as long as they welcome and seek others to join the fellowship of Christ.
As far as I see you are just trying to be some sort of politically correct position as a form of explaining why a church is in decline. There is more to it than that, and you know it. Please stay with the other issues the ones that will unite us all in Christ.
Yes, Ernie, I am really old.
I could not agree more (as a Southern Baptist layman) with your assessment regarding homogeneous congregations in the 21st century. Those of us who grew up in the SBC in the ’40s ’50s, ’60s and ’70s did so in a segregated denomination. My home church was all white as was the surrounding neighborhood. The irony is that a local “in house” church plant that meets in our chapel reflects our changed community contrasted with the host church which does not, despite our best efforts to change the perception of a “big,” white, “rich” congregation, none of which is true.
Homogeneous churches may be declining and some may die, but for some of these churches it won’t be for the lack of trying. I pastor in a community that is 70-75% African-American. Yet the church I serve would be considered 100% white. In my ten years of serving this church and community I can honestly say we have made many attempts to reach our community; not focusing on skin color but focusing on the individual who may open the door to us. However, the response I have received from many of those we have reached out to has been that they don’t want to be a part of our “white” church. We have even tried to partner with African-American churches and were refused because they saw us as a “white” church. The typical things that “whites” are accused of as being racist and prejudiced are the exact opposite here. I can go into a restaurant and receive poor service because I am white. I have been made to wait longer and watched others seated first because I am white. I have had my change thrown at me because the cashier didn’t want to hand me the change. I know firsthand that racism still exists and may even have grown over the past several years. But we can’t lay all the blame on “white” churches. Racism does in fact go both ways.
In my 6 years+ of living in the Caribbean I encountered something of this at first. I went for a haircut at 9am and was still sitting when the shop was closing at 5pm. Around 11am, when it occurred to me what was happening, I chose to sit patiently rather than react, and when my turn came at 5pm I engaged in conversation as though nothing was amiss. That hairdresser and a number of his regulars became pals, and actually came to the church where I served although in that congregation of 800 I was regularly one of a handful of white people. In the taking of offence or in the manner of reaction we create perception of grievance. As Paul might have said “Brothers, this ought not to be”.
I serve in a community that is 98% Caucasian, and less than 2% of any other ethnic group at all. Our church is, as far as I can tell, all Caucasian. I’ve only been serving here for a few weeks. While I agree 100% with your post, I find that my reality is that we have a very little opportunity to reach any other ethnic group. We are in the rule caucasian. I’ve only been serving here for a few weeks. While I agree 100% with your post, I find that my reality is that we have very little opportunity to reach any other ethnic group. We are in the rual Midwest. What is your advice on helping my church reach that 2% minority group in our area?
I suspect that, in your context, diversity will be found mostly in politics and economic standing. You may have more diversity than you think. The posts above cite many areas of diversity that may exist within a local church.
what happen to concentric circles of concern? In the german community where I live, the lines are mainly based (catholic) on the farmers (who are rich in land) and the rich (who have bought a lot of the properties on the hill and are rich in money). So the main population is the farmers. Should the farmers go get the rich young men?
How about this. Find out if there is a minority church in your area, maybe Hispanic or African-American, and befriend the pastor. Get to know them. It might go a long ways!
Homogeneity extends beyond the ethnic; it is economic as well. I serve in Central Appalachia, in an area that’s population is 97% white, with a smattering of Hispanics. The African American’s that live here are in the extreme minority. Since the decline of the coal industry, the social classes have divided into the “haves” and the “have nots.” The population is in decline, and unless new industries come in, it is not likely to change soon. In our area as a whole, the middle class is eroding and in the community our church is located in, some 75% are on some form of government assistance. The community is lower income, mostly old “coal villages” that are now considered low income housing. However, the majority of the active church members are white collar: doctors, lawyers, business owners, educators, and retirees who did well in their careers. And they are wonderful, loving, caring people who love the Lord. But there is still a barrier to overcome to convince them that the impoverished, the drug-addicts, the multiple-timed-divorced, the single mothers, etc. should be apart of the church. I plan to use this article with our leadership in the prayerful expectation it will shed light on this issue.
To me, this comment absolutely nails it. Economic homogeneity is at the root of most church homogeneity; the inability to reach beyond one social group or another (which applies equally to those who wish to remain amongst “haves” as well as to those zealous to champion the causes of “have-nots”) is the true factor in division.
Remember my Sisters and Brothers In Christ, Each local Body of Christ is made up of several generations. Each generation is molded and shaped by various factors. The key question for all of us to consider is this: How do we minister to each group?
There fore, it is very important that each local Body of Christ engage in a comprehensive self study and evaluation process on a periodic basis. Everyone is God’s precious sheep. We need to minister to all of them.
Well said, Robert.
As a Catholic, I recall well the racist attitude of my Church. A black priest went to a Catholic church to celebrate a Mass – he was refused entry to the Church; not too long after that incident , the first black bishop in the 20th century, on the occasion of his consecration as bishop, was boycotted at the door of the cathedral. Where is thIs HOMOGENEOUS CHURCH????
Are we are this HOMOGENEOUS church? YES, YES, YES!!!
Though, at times we speak with forked tongues, we all DO WANT to reach that PROMISED LAND. This is the reason for the season – CHRISTMAS – let’s get our act together !!!
the first black us bishop was back in the 1800’s.
Those of us who are young here know what was (not) done and how it resulted in so many people leaving churches as well as Christianity. Pastoral care should first be extended to everyone. Second, younger people should be included in the church, not kept separate 100% of the time.
The one problem with this post is that many, if not most neighborhoods are homogeneous. Neighborhood churches are therefore going to reflect this homogeneity. Are you advising that Christians should attend churches outside of their neighborhoods? It seems to me that strong neighborhood churches, like neighborhood schools, build up the body of Christ and foster unity and mission
If a church truly reflects the community, I celebrate that reality. Many church leaders, however, are not aware that the neighborhoods have changed. I would encourage all church leaders to do the work to find out who is truly in the neighborhood.
What do you do if you’re in an older church and they are struggling with change? I’ve gone through Autopsy of a deceased church with my board and congregation. They have a hard time with People coming in that’s not like them. It Breaks my heart.
You need to discover the “why” they have such a hard time. Challenge them to be open about it. Is is the music, the worship style SBC vs. Pentecostal or what. Until they get free to dialogue about it they won’t be change
I’m perplexed. I’ve been a member in churches in Kansas, California, Georgia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania since being saved in 1992. I am what you would call very conservative or even fundamental. I have NEVER been in a church that was all white. I’ve never been in a church that was all black either, not even in the South. The predominately white churches always had a few black members, and several hispanic. The same could be said of a predominately black church I attended for 4 years.
My challenge in the post is basic, Mark. Does the church truly reflect the community in which it is located? I cannot answer the question in your contexts, so I don’t know if “a few black members” or “several hispanic” reflect the basic composition of the community. If they do, your churches are not homogeneous.
I just had a discussion with my musical team yesterday morning on the subject of [extinct] cultural Christianity. We discussed how it’s not normal for people to “just come to church” anymore, and how nothing we change about our services, programs, or structure will make our church attractive or appealing. It takes initiative, sincerity, and above all, authenticity.
Great post, Thom. Really enjoyed it.
Thank you, Logan,
Today it is not just race and ethnicity that divides people. A heterogeneous church can have democrats and republicans in the same congregation. Secular politics is one of the most divisive things there is. Conservatives hate liberals and blame them for all the ills in the world. Liberals hate conservatives and want them eradicated. Fundamentalists don’t want moderates in the church as they feel that they dilute the faith. Moderates think fundamentalists run everyone off. Arminians can’t stand Calvinism and write everything imaginable about how bad it is.
And the list goes on. The best churches focus on Jesus.
That is a great point, Mark. Thank you.
Mark, how do you ignore abortion and the Democrat party? They are undeniably tied together? Just curious.
You first accept that there are also good, church-going Republicans who support keeping abortion legal, even if they are not radically pre-choice. You accept the fact that the Democratic party has some better positions on issues than the Republican party. You encourage people not to shun and throw out of their families pregnant, unwed females. You support parents teaching their children about birth control and safe sex instead of keeping the two genders apart and sex a secret. You also accept that the laws in the Bible do not apply to the whole world, but only to Jews and Christians. Just one issue is not the reason to support one party and shun the other.
Mark, I really don’t know where to start here. Setting politics aside, I’ve got real concerns about your theology. “The laws in the Bible do not apply to the whole world”. Really? Then, why Christ?
“There are also “good” church-going Republicans” . . . . . .
Mark 10:18 “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone”
My favorite comment though is your comment about “safe sex”. Can I ask you what is “safe” about it (outside the boundaries of marriage)? Does God condone it? Is there no chance whatsoever of an STD or an unwanted pregnancy (looking at it from a cultural perspective)?
I Thessalonians 4:3 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.”
On what are you basing your counseling/guidance?
Typical humanistic theology. No Christ.
Mark Smith, as a sage leader in our denomination recently advised our clergy when asked about addressing pressing social issues without being shut out (in this case: gun control) is focusing not on the issue, in you example abortion and the Democratic party; rather focus on the ethic being built or espoused, treating all people with dignity and respect.
I would imagine, as the original poster Mark inferred, every issue is not a clearly divided liberal/conservative, Republican/Democrat, fundamentalist/progressive issue.
As an Episcopal priest where I go frequently says in his homilies, God is above politics.
For what it’s worth Mark, the sage leader I spoke of was Bishop Michael Curry.
Even though I get the thrust of this article. Sometimes these over generalizations get tiresome. I used to read subjects like this and think how do I correct our situation. How can I appeal to those who don’t look like us? Then I realized (duh?) that the demographics of our area is 97 white. Therefore until the community begins to change, and it will, I will shelf the notion of multiculturalism. Once in a while it would be nice to see qualifiers addressing exceptions to the rule in order to alleviate guilt for new pastors of struggling churches where none of this will help.
Racial diversity is a good thing; doctrinal diversity, not so much. A church that has no doctrinal boundaries has ceased to be a church. To say that a church should just “focus on Jesus” and not worry about other doctrinal issues is a cop-out. We Southern Baptists went down that road some years ago, and it very nearly killed us.
Within politics are vested values which are also spiritual in nature. You can only have politically diversity if the church or the denomination has already laid down clear boundaries which may not be crossed.