by Dr. Mark DeYmaz
For eighteen years, I served as a full-time youth pastor in a variety of homogeneous church contexts. Frankly, I never thought much the lack of ethnic and economic diversity within these congregations: who we were, who we were not, or who we might have become if we had not been segregated by race and class distinctions.
That’s right; I said it.
The churches I served during those years were systemically segregated. Sure, each in its own way sought to build bridges to the community, to people who were in one way or another different than us, and living within relatively close proximity to the church. At no time, however, could it be said “we were the community”. Years later, I recognize that the nuance is significant and one that can no longer be ignored by churches hoping to present a credible witness of Christ-like love for all people in an increasingly diverse and cynical society.
Such revelations should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with churches throughout North America. According to the latest research, 92.5% of churches in the United States are racially segregated1. 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.2
Does this concern you? What’s more shocking is that America is actually becoming more diverse, while the church remains consistently segregated. According to the latest census figures, the United States is evolving into a multicultural nation where no single race or ethnicity represents a numeric majority.3 So what are the unintended consequences of homogeneous churches? According to sociologist Michael Emerson, author of the book, Divided By Faith, homogenous churches forward the following precepts:
- Reproduce Inequality
- Encourage Oppression
- Strengthen Racial Division
- Heighten Political Separation4
Don’t believe it? Consider just one example to support these claims – 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%.5.
Surely it breaks the heart of God that so many churches are established by race and class; that little has changed in the more than one hundred years since it was first observed that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.6
Brothers and sisters, it should not be so!
The evidence confirms what 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).7
According to the principle’s progenitor, Donald McGavran, the HUP recognizes that “[People] like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers”. 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?
Undeniably, churches do grow fastest when they’re homogeneous.
Still the question remains: Is this God’s will and best for the church? I do not think so; and therefore encourage anyone planting a church to do so in line with New Testament thinking on the subject, and not according to the conventional wisdom of Man.
1. See Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey, and Karen Chai Kim, United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003). The authors cite Mark Chavez, “National Congregations Study” (Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Department of Sociology, 1999). The remaining churches (7.5 percent) can be described as multiracial churches, in which there is a non-majority, collective population of at least 20 percent. By this definition, approximately 12 percent of Catholic churches, just less than 5 percent of evangelical churches, and about 2.5 percent of mainline Protestant churches can be described currently as multiethnic or multi-racial.
2. Statistics presented by Dr. Michael O. Emerson at the National Multi-ethnic Church Conference in San Diego, CA, November 2-3, 2011. A complete video of his presentation is available to members of the Mosaix Global Network. See mosaix.info/membership-benefits for further details on how to join Mosaix and gain access the entire content of the conference online.
3. See noticias.aollatino.com/2011/03/22/census-2010-results-hispanicpopulation, accessed 25 March, 2011.
4. Emerson’s conclusions were cited by David T. Olsen in a presentation delivered at the National Multi-ethnic Church Conference in San Diego, CA, November 2-3, 2011. A complete video of his presentation is available to members of the Mosaix Global Network. See www.mosaix.info/membership-benefits for further details on how to join Mosaix and gain access the entire content of the conference online.
5. Statistics presented by David T. Olsen at the National Multi-ethnic Church Conference in San Diego, CA, November 2-3, 2011. A complete video of his presentation is available to members of the Mosaix Global Network. See www.mosaix.info/membership-benefits for further details on how to join Mosaix and gain access the entire content of the conference online.
6. Mark DeYmaz: Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Leadership Network, 2007), p. 186, where the author states, “As to when and by whom this sentiment was first observed, religious scholar Martin Marty noted at the end of the nineteenth century, ‘White Protestants, however, did little to build bonds with [Black Protestant] churches, and racially there were at least two Americas or Christianities. Doctrinal and practical similarity counted for little. …Critics noted that the Sunday Protestant worship hour was the most segregated time of the week. Indeed, the once righteous churches of the North, after proclaiming triumph over the evils of slavery and the South, came during the next century to adopt southern styles of regard for Blacks and their churches, and there was little positive contact even within denominational families’ (John McManners, ed. The Oxford History of Christianity [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990], 423).
7. I am using the term as colloquially defined at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institutional_racism, accessed 25 March, 2011, which reads, “Institutional racism (also called structural or systemic racism) describes any kind of system of inequality based on race. It can occur in institutions such as public government bodies, private business corporations (such as media outlets), and universities (public and private). The term was coined by Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael in the late 1960s. The definition given by William Macpherson within the report looking into the death of Stephen Lawrence was ‘the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture, or ethnic origin,’ Jones, J. M. (1997) Prejudice and Racism (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.”