A Biblical Evaluation of the Homogeneous Unit Principle, Part 1


In 1955, Donald McGavran, in his groundbreaking book The Bridges of God, laid out many of the fundamental principles of what would later come to be known as the Church Growth Movement. Among these principles, the most controversial is the homogeneous unit principle (HUP).1 Though he articulated and defended the key ideas underlying it in The Bridges of God, the most succinct and well-known summary of the HUP is that found in McGavran’s Understanding Church Growth: “Men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers.”2

As a sociological observation, though there are certain exceptions to the rule, the general accuracy of the HUP is practically incontrovertible.3 But it is not as a sociological observation that the HUP has elicited such controversy. The pushback has come when the HUP has been promoted not only as an interesting and instructive description of human behavior, but as a prescriptive guide for missionary and church growth strategy. In The Bridges of God, McGavran plainly stated, “The normal clannishness of the new group being discipled must be cheerfully accepted and, indeed, encouraged.”4

While it is evident from his writings that McGavran himself was not personally racist,5 the accusation has been leveled by more than a few critics that the implications of the HUP have been responsible for a de facto racism and failure to live out the unity of the gospel among many groups of Christians around the world. The claim of HUP advocates is that it is a helpful tool for working toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission, and it is evident that McGavran’s principal motivation was indeed that of “discipling the nations” in a more effective manner. Among other developments, McGavran’s articulation of the HUP led to the contemporary emphasis on identifying unreached people groups and targeting them for special evangelistic efforts.6


In their defense of the HUP, the proponents of the Church Growth Movement have been accused of starting with a sociological premise and then seeking a posteriori a theological justification to back it up.7 Though there may be some degree of legitimacy to this accusation, McGavran and his colleagues do attempt to back up their claims with scriptural exegesis. There is some question, however, as to whether McGavran in his defense of the HUP as a missiological principle correctly understood the Great Commission, and whether a prescriptive practice of the HUP in missionary and local church contexts is truly biblical.

McGavran’s Understanding of the Great Commission

The primary scriptural basis adduced for the HUP in the writings of McGavran comes from the use of the phrase matheteusate panta ta ethne (“make disciples of all nations”) in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18–20. According to Bosch, however, “On the slender basis of the interpretation of Matthew 28:19 as meaning that Jesus commissioned the discipling of separate homogeneous units, the Church Growth movement has erected an imposing superstructure.”8

The Meaning of Ethne

For McGavran, the key component of this passage is the command to disciple the various ethne (or “nations”) of the world, which he understands as referring to ethnic groups rather than to geopolitical nation-states. Though there is not an exact correspondence between the “homogeneous units” of the HUP and the ethne of the Great Commission, the command to disciple the ethne forms the proposed biblical basis of evangelistic and missionary strategies targeting specific homogeneous units.

Wagner, widely credited with taking McGavran’s principles and fleshing out their practical implications for missionary strategy, provides a definition of homogeneous unit that is somewhat flexible and nebulous: “The rationale upon which a homogeneous unit is determined is a group in which people can ‘feel at home.’ They know they are among ‘our kind of people.’”9 McGavran himself, who served for 38 years as a missionary in India, identifies ethne as functionally equivalent to Indian jati or castes.10 He defines a “homogeneous unit” as “a section of society in which all the members have some characteristic in common.”11 He further stipulates that homogeneous unit lines are normally drawn according to socially acceptable lines of intermarriage within a given community.12

The Meaning of Matheteusate 

A second key concept underlying McGavran’s understanding of the Great Commission is his definition of the imperative verb matheteusate, alternately translated “teach,” “make disciples,” or “disciple.” In keeping with his understanding of panta ta ethne (“all nations”) as referring to ethnic groups, he postulates that to “disciple” an ethnic group basically means to “Christianize” the society of that ethnic group. Though he does not deny the reality and the necessity of individual conversion, McGavran sees the discipling of ethne as a collective process:

According to the Great Commission, the peoples are to be discipled. Negatively, a people is discipled when the claim of polytheism, idolatry, fetishism or any other man-made religion on its corporate loyalty is eliminated. Positively, a people is discipled when its individuals feel united around Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, believe themselves to be members of His Church, and realize that ‘our folk are Christians, our book is the Bible, and our house of worship is the church.’13

McGavran’s concept of Christianizing the ethne of the world is closely tied to his church growth theories regarding “people movements.” In contrast to the “one-by-one mode” which he claims is more typical of the pattern of evangelization in the West, McGavran claims that, “Across the ages and in all six continents God Himself has caused most first-time decisions from non-Christian faiths to come by way of people movements.”14 Indeed, in his opinion, “Christward movements of peoples are the supreme goal of missionary effort.”15

“Discipling” and “Perfecting”

All this is further complicated by McGavran’s understanding of the Christianization of an ethnic group as a two-stage process, which he describes as consisting of discipling and perfecting: “The removal of distracting divisive sinful gods and spirits and ideas from the corporate life of the people and putting Christ at the centre on the Throne, this we call discipling. Discipling is the essential first stage. Much else must, however, follow.”16 “The second stage in the establishment of a Christian civilization is ‘teaching them all things.’”17

It is this division of the Christianizing process into two stages which paves the way for a comparatively lower degree of expectations with regard to moral and ethical standards for newly “discipled” people groups, including their approach to racial and social-class segregation. HUP proponents in general agree that the ideal toward which Christian discipleship, both on an individual as well as a collective basis, should point is one of full equality and unity across racial, ethnic, and social-class lines. According to McGavran, however, “Jews and Gentiles—or other classes and races who scorn and hate one another—must be discipled before they can be made really one.”18 As a result, it is asking too much to expect people groups to give up their natural proclivities to relating primarily to “people like them” as a requirement for initial discipleship. Growth in that area, according to McGavran, comes later, once people have already embraced Christianity as their religious preference.

(to be continued…)


1. Antonio Carlos Barro, “Unity and Diversity in the Family of God” (Faculdade Teológica Sul Americana Londrina, Paraná, Brazil, 2003), http://www.ediaspora.net/ACB_article3.html.

2. Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth (Revised ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 223.

3. See, for example, Charles H. Kraft, “An Anthropological Apologetic for the Homogeneous Unit Principle in Missiology,” Occasional Bulletin of Missionary Research 2, no. 4 (October 1978): 122. Edward R. Dayton and David A. Fraser, Planning Strategies for World Evangelization (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 130–31.

4. Donald A. McGavran, The Bridges of God (Revised; New York: Friendship Press, 1981), 130.

5. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, 239. C. Peter Wagner, McGavran’s colleague in the Church Growth Movement, and fellow advocate of the HUP, shares his views on racism. See, for example, C. Peter Wagner, Our Kind of People (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1979), 153.

6. “McGavran’s understanding of social units paved the way for the growing awareness of the unreached people’s concept, but this concept was developed, set forth, and popularized by Ralph D. Winter.” Kenneth Mulholland, “Donald McGavran’s Legacy to Evangelical Missions,” EMQ 27, no. 1 (January 1991): 64–70.

7. See, for example, C. René Padilla, “The Unity of the Church and the Homogeneous Unit Principle,” in Exploring Church Growth (ed. Wilbert R. Shenk; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 301; George W. Peters, A Theology of Church Growth (Zondervan, 1981), 10; Dayton and Fraser, Planning Strategies for World Evangelization, 130–31.

8. David J. Bosch, “The Structure of Mission: An Exposition of Matthew 28:16–20,” in Exploring Church Growth (ed. Wilbert R. Shenk; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 236.

9. Wagner, Our Kind of People, 75.

10. Donald A. McGavran, Effective Evangelism (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1988), 47.

11. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, 85.

12. McGavran, The Bridges of God, 1.

13. Ibid., 14.

14. Donald A. McGavran, Momentous Decisions in Missions Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 108. See also McGavran, The Bridges of God, 8–12.

15. McGavran, The Bridges of God, 82. Yoder, however, provides a devastating critique of people movement missiology: “Can there be a ‘Christianization’ of a whole population that is so superficial that they are not really Christian at all? In The Bridges of God, pages 36–40, McGavran is very affirmative about the age of Constantine and Charlemagne, i.e., of the historical Christianization of Europe by the prince. He calls that a people movement. I trust there are people movements that are more valid than that. But how can you tell the difference between a prince saying, ‘now all you people will be baptized,’ and a village collectively deciding in such a way that they say ‘we decided’? If Clovis says, ‘I’m going to have all troops run through the river,’ that’s not a valid decision for baptism. It is not clear how McGavran can tell them apart.” John H. Yoder, “Church Growth Issues in Theological Perspective,” in The Challenge of Church Growth (ed. Wilbert R. Shenk; Missionary Studies No. 1; Scottsdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1973), 42–43. Peters adds the following insightful comment: “It must be admitted, however, that to a great extent this expansion of the form, profession, and name of Christendom has little resemblance to the Christianity defined in the New Testament and the church portrayed in the Book of Acts. In many ways the expansion of Christendom has come at the expense of the purity of the gospel and true Christian order and life. The church has become infested with pagan beliefs and practices, and is syncretistic in theology as evidenced in the larger and ancient branches of Christendom. Large segments have become Christo-pagan.” Peters, A Theology of Church Growth, 24. Olson links McGavran’s theories on people-movement conversion to theological presuppositions rooting in “the baptism regenerationist overtones of his Campbellite background” and his “postmillennialism.” C. Gordon Olson, “What about People-Movement Conversion?,” EMQ 15, no. 3 (July 1979): 133. Ironically, Wagner makes a counter-accusation of denominational bias, insinuating that those who oppose the HUP do so largely in keeping with “the Anabaptist or so-called radical Christian model for doing theology [which insists] that a change in one’s loyalty to culture or society is necessary in order to be an obedient Christian,” and identifies this position as representative of the “Christ against culture” position described in H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture. Wagner, Our Kind of People, 100.

16. McGavran, The Bridges of God, 14.

17. Ibid., 15.

18. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, 239.


  1. Bill Pfister says

    Excellent article. I see the wisdom of sharing the gospel in the heart language of a particular people group but I have also seen the weaknesses of having an isolated church without mixing across ethnic and cultural barriers to form one body in Christ. I look forward to part two.!

  2. David Rogers says

    Actually, there are going to be about 6 parts altogether. Feel free to jump in wherever you want. I will be considering what I consider to be some biblical deficiencies in the HUP as a prescriptive model.

    • Mark Terry says

      Thanks for your helpful and thoughtful post. I’ll look forward to reading the forthcoming parts. I was trained in Church Growth by Dr. Cal Guy at Southwestern Seminary. It was Dr. Guy who introduced Church Growth to the SBC. I’ve taught Church Growth to many seminary students over the years. While I agree that HUP can be taken to extremes, usually applying the HUP simply means that we plant churches in which people can worship in their heart language. Sometimes when I teach HUP, students say, “That’s racist!” They insist that the church should welcome all people. I reply that I certainly agree. We should be inclusive. Then I ask, “What language shall we use in our church that welcomes all people?” At that point they begin to hem and haw. In my estimation about 95% of HUP practice involves planting “language” churches/congregations. The homogeneous element can be most anything. When I served in the Philippines our International Baptist Church in Manila had members from nine different countries. I considered that church an HUP church. The common denominator for the members was their differentness. They were all foreigners, living in the Philippines. I would be delighted to discuss this with you in person, as we live near each other.

      • David Rogers says

        Dr. Terry, It is an honor to have you check in here. I look forward to interacting with your comments as you see a little more of where I am headed, and, Lord willing, discussing this further in person as well. It is great to have you here in Memphis and at MABTS.

          • David Rogers says

            Ed, This comment stream, based on the comments thus far, is stacking up to be a very interesting, and hopefully fruitful, discussion before it is all done. I am pleasantly surprised by the amount of substantive comments my largely academic Part 1 has already garnered. And, yes, I am currently in the process of preparing myself mentally to eat some humble pie with regard to all this. But if we can all learn together, and keep things edifying, in process, I say, why not?

        • Dave Miller says

          I am interested in hearing more about Dr. Terry’s heart language concept. Does that extend to things like cowboy church, biker church, traditional and contemporary churches, even black and white churches?

          How much should we let our differences in culture divide us in worship. Or does unity simply require that we honor one another while worshiping in our separate cultures and language?

          These are issues I stew on and hope the discussion will advance..

          • says

            How much of our reaction to HUP ideas within the borders of the United States is based on an assumption that we are, or at least ought to be, a unified American Christianized culture rather than acknowledging the reality of life?

            Take the example of the church in Manila cited by Dr. Terry above–people out of their home culture joining to form a church where that’s the common thread. Are there not many places in the US where that would be a valid construct for a church as well?

            We often decry how original SBC church planting out of the South was simply Southerners huddling up and forming churches like they left behind, but is there not some difference in culture between Arkansas and New York?

            We seem to be ok with building indigenous churches and culturally-defined churches anywhere that the IMB works: a Syrian Church in Israel? No problem! An Israeli Church in England? Sure!

            But put that inside the US and we condemn it: no, you can’t have a Yankee church in the South, or a church that bends toward cultural outcasts (bikers, whatever) because you’re dividing the body.

          • David Rogers says

            Dave, Yes, indeed, those are questions we will need to visit more before this is all through. For now, I will venture the following: As a rule of thumb, in general, ways of doing church and missionary strategies that tend to draw people into closer contact and deeper fellowship with the whole Body of Christ are good, and those which tend to isolate and exclude people from this fellowship are comparatively bad. And, if due to language concerns, people don’t understand what’s going on, I would say that tends to isolate and exclude them.

          • David Rogers says

            Doug, Yes, if the principles that are guiding us are only applicable at home and not overseas, something appears to be amiss.

          • Dave Miller says

            Doug, the other aspect of what you said is a kind of cultural arrogance. When we see biker church or cowboy church we see a problem. But a conservative white American congregation? That’s just normal.

            Why do bikers and cowboys want their own churches? Because unknowingly we have set up so many cultural barriers in our churches that they feel out of place.

          • says

            That’s, for example, what I have seen in a cowboy-centered fellowship around here–they started a “cowboy church” in an arena that you can show up in jeans, it’s less formal, and so forth. Why? Because “First Baptist” restated their dress code when some of the workers from local ranches started showing up in jeans and dirty boots.

            There’s folks at the cowboy fellowship from all walks of life–and that includes what is rare in Arkansas, people of differing skin colors!–but they get condemned as being divisive since they started up with that label.

      • Bart Barber says

        Dear Dr. Terry,

        I’m only linking to my contrarian point of view because Ed declared that we shouldn’t. :-)


        Actually, if you look at that post carefully you’ll see that it’s not so much declaring a contrary answer as it is exposing some personal struggles with some of the edges of what we have done in the way of prescriptive HUP models with regard to linguistic groups.

    • says

      “I will be considering what I consider to be some biblical deficiencies in the HUP as a prescriptive model.”

      I think that’s the rub: using the HUP as a prescriptive model in all cases. I’m looking forward to the rest of this.

      The question I’ve wrestled with since my first class in “church growth” where we learned all of the McGavran material has been about this: “Can we spread the Gospel, which has no ethnic/cultural limits, rightly without mandating the removal of those cultural limits?”

      Or, more practically where I am, absolutely I should insist that Bob the 50-year-deacon be willing to worship with all races, but how do I connect Fred the new-believer-but-3rd-generation-50-year-KKK member into that same church?

      A homogeneous church would be easier on Fred until he reaches a maturity point to abandon his ways–but am I enabling his continued sin if I support a church being primarily, if not exclusively, monoethnic? All-white church doesn’t look like heaven any more than all-anybody else church does, but if all-white church reaches racists and then the Spirit changes their hearts, is it acceptable?

      So, like I said, I look forward to reading your reflections and examination of this issue.

      • David Rogers says

        Doug, Yes indeed, you are putting your finger on some of the key issues at stake here. I look forward to your continued interaction as I continue to lay out my case in the upcoming posts.

  3. Dave Miller says

    David, an apology here. I saw this last night and set it to publish. I’m on vacation and I simply forgot today was Sunday.

    I would have saved it for Monday.

    This is a great article. Don’t want it to get lost. It is an article that needs to be read.

  4. Kevin Peacock says

    David, great article so far. I see the critique implications applying to the “homogeneous worship” ideology of today. It tends to factionalize the body of Christ.

    • David Rogers says

      Kevin, Yes, I think that much of our unexamined capitulation to the HUP feeds into the consumeristic mindset in much of Western Evangelicalism today.

  5. Chris Roberts says

    Much of this points to a problem with the all-too-common model of evangelism today: church as the place to bring lost people to get them saved. The gospel is go-and-tell, but we call people to come-and-see. If we see the church as the gathering of believers for growth and edification, then it is the place where discipleship takes place (though not the only place). Churches should not focus exclusively on this ethnic group or that social preference (cowboy church, anyone?) since by the time we get people in church we should operate with the expectation that these are believers born again under the power of the Holy Spirit. Perfect? No. Being perfected? Yes. Not all, certainly – there should be an evangelistic component to our services, but it should not get center stage.

    Trying to build a church to reach the lost is about building a church that will go and tell; it is not about making a church lost people want to visit.

    • David Rogers says

      Chris, I agree, as we will see further as I continue with this series. One good thing I think a recognition of the sociological reality of the HUP can do is to help us to be aware where we are setting up cultural barriers to the gospel that are keeping those not like us away and even distorting the gospel itself in the process.

  6. says


    This is really interesting. I am not familiar with HUP at least in that terminology. Would you relate this to the construction of caricatures like “Saddleback Sam” from the heyday of the Purpose Driven movement?

    Also, I’m sure you will touch on this later, but how does this relate to Paul’s rebuke of Peter for not eating with Gentiles when the Judaizers came? Or to the Gentile mission of Paul in General which led to the building of multi-ethnic churches that had all kinds of difficulties as they sought to reach both Jews and Gentiles? There never seems to be any call for more homogenous gatherings in the NT.

    Looking forward to part 2.

    • David Rogers says

      Yes, Ryan, the Saddleback Sam approach is one application of the HUP. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with studying the demographic characteristics of those in your community/neighborhood and designing evangelistic strategies with these characteristics in mind. The problem is when your community/neighborhood is ethnically and socially diverse and the way you do church lays out the welcome mat, as it were, to a certain subgroup, and shouts out (although often not in actual words) to everyone else, “This is really not the place for you. You would likely feel more at home over at this other church instead.”

  7. Roger Simpson says

    The aspect of this “target model” approach to Christianity that I’ve seen played out with less than ideal results is this: attempting to define “target audience” via some cultural factor (i. e. music taste) which is really just a proxy for “age”. Assume you want to be relevant to a particular group. The method you use to attract your target group is actually a selection criterion based on age.

    In my own experience — based upon several actual experiences with churches in Silicon Valley — is that this methodology flawed for two reasons:

    (a) People’s interest with music etc. is not constant with time — so if you reach them with an “age sensitive” package — that package will be obsolete in 8 to 20 years. So you have built-in church shrinkage.

    (b) People who are not in the “target age” bracket at the outset prior to your execution of your plan will exit you church once you start implementing your plan. You can’t complain when this happens because implicit in your expectations is that fact that people who are in your church, or might be attracted to your church, are “consumers” who are wooed by cultural packaging.

    So you are trading in a model of a “stagnating church size” [zero growth] for one that virtually guarantees negative growth — both now and in the future.

    Doctors have a maximum that they employ in treating people — first do no harm. Unfortunately, some of these church growth scenarios end up doing more harm than good. The tragic thing is this negative outcome could have been predicted if people would only look at the landscape objectively.

    You can’t chase culture fast enough to keep up. The demographic of your area is so granular — and so fluid — that you end up chasing your tail.

    I say this in jest but there is more truth to this than you think: Give them Gregorian Chants or Bach or Old Time Hymns or Southern Gospel etc. and let them come to you. You will only get a slice of the people in your town to come to your service. But once you get them they will probably stay with you.

    This bait and switch doesn’t work. You can’t attract people with one marketing strategy and expect to keep them when you reach out to the next target audience by adopting a radically different marketing strategy. Such a plan is not internally consistent.

    Roger Simpson Oklahoma City OK

    • David Rogers says

      Roger, In principle, I agree with everything you say here. In practice, though, it is often a lot more complicated. Whatever style of music you choose (not to speak of any number of other elements in the way we do church), it will always be more culturally palatable to some and less so to others. I do think, though, it is good to recognize this, and do whatever is within our control to not alienate anyone by the choices we make with regard to the cultural aspects of the way we do church.

      • Greg Buchanan says

        …”it will always be more culturally palatable to some and less so to others.”


        I love your article and am VERY fond of your perspective because your life experience allows you to see beyond the American cultural perspective. However, the above quote, in reference to church culture is based on an American cliche: “you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

        I believe that mindset/attitude in pastors, seminaries, and church members betrays a lack of discipleship in that we should be deriving our “pleasure” from God, not from this song or that song or that order of worship or that worship element or that inclusion/exclusion of media, or this or that study material. I’m certain almost everyone here will say/think, “well I know that…” but if we did “know it” and applied it, I think we wouldn’t be so quick to judge a service by those elements if they are all oriented towards the worship of Jesus.

        Our “culture” as church should be that of the Kingdom, where I am grateful it will not be an American Heaven because I’m certain that “all of the people will be pleased all of the time” in contrast with our compartmentalized approach.

        Church SHOULD be multi-cultural as a means of ACCULTURATING believers into Kingdom culture. Multi-cultural doesn’t just mean a Spanish worship song mixed in with the English songs down here in Arizona. Multi-cultrual should also mean using “Like a Lion” by the Newsboys mixed in with “Amazing Grace” by John Newton for the express purpose of praising God. So that then, the older folks who link guitars and drums with honky-tonks and Woodstock will grow past their cultural baggage and worship God for the biblical lyrics of “Like A Lion” and so that the younger crowd can hear and appreciate the deep theologically driven spiritual angst and release of slave-trader saved by Grace without requiring a driving beat and screaming guitars.

        This is of course a simplistic example, but the principal, as you understand from living overseas, is sound: immersion is the BEST teacher of a language and culture, not academic study. Perhaps our churches should be more an immersion experience in Kingdom culture, not so much local geographic culture.

        • Greg Buchanan says


          Let me clarify quickly having read what I posted: I’m not meaning to imply that you have a lack of discipleship anymore than I or anyone else does save what Paul says in Romans 7:15.

          In other words, we know (in part) how things should be, but we don’t always do them.

  8. Dave Miller says

    I struggle so much with this.don’t realize I there us little doubt that HE works. But Paul did not start the Jewish congregation and the Gentile chufch. He worked to break down walks and make the two one.

    I think the issue is that we don’t realize how much culture is wrapped up in our churches.

    • says

      I think the rub is this:

      How much can be justified based on “it works”?

      A significant part of the problem is this: in the New Testament era, there was little to no benefit to being a participant in the Christian Church unless you really were a Christian. So, while some seekers may have found their way to church gatherings, I wonder if there was a larger divide between where the Church encountered the lost world and where the Church worshiped. Paul rebukes Peter for fostering ethnic division within the Church, but there is no rebuke of Paul for walking out of the synagogue and saying he’s off to the Gentiles–which was an action of ethnic division.

      We have so compacted the “American Christian” life into a couple of hours on Sunday that we are trying to accomplish all functions in that hour. Some things, like outreach, naturally follow along cultural (which includes ethnic in the US)–but discipleship and growth follow the work of the Spirit in believers. Perhaps our “church services” are not really the place for our major outreach efforts–a “worship service” ought to reflect worship in reality, and be made up across all lines.

      But it’s perfectly natural for Dave’s outreach to be among Yankees Fans, his home culture, while CB Scott reaches the Tide, and I do outreach in the postseason, because there’s no sports happening in my culture (for a simple cultural division). Maybe the HUP is a reflection of natural patterns in the spread of the Word, but is not how a church should be designed. Instead, the church should be structured to empower the diversity of believers to reach people among their natural life-pattern. The more mature a believer becomes, the greater the effort made to pattern their life to reach the lost, but in growth, we naturally reach people we are typically around.

      Farmers reach farmers far better than sea captains–but a mature Christian farmer will gladly go help reach sea captains. However, a church for sea captains may need a totally different schedule than a farmer church, too.

      I think another aspect here is that we in America seem to see this concept almost exclusively along a *racial* line, because that’s how we tend to see ethnic/cultural splits. However, that’s not as valid historically or globally as we might want it to be.

      • David Rogers says

        Doug, Interesting thoughts. From what I understand, there is good reason for thinking many, if not most, NT house churches were formed around family and natural relationship networks. Still, it is almost certain that Jews and Gentiles, and slaves and freemen, gathered together and shared communion together in the same meetings though.

        • says

          That would lend credence to a two-stage “church” existence: a smaller gathering that fulfills some aspects of the church’s role, and then a larger gathering that fulfills others.

          We definitely need to do more actual thinking about church.

          • David Rogers says

            Doug, I address the two-stage church question a little more specifically in what will probably end up being part 5 or 6 (this is a paper I turned in for a doctoral seminar, if anyone hasn’t figured that out yet). For now, I will way that it is hard to make hard and fast rules about these kinds of things. I think my “rule of thumb” that I mention to Dave Miller in a previous comment would prove helpful here, though.

          • says

            I kind of figured you already had most of the rest–mainly just sputtering thoughts in hopes of understanding. I’m the guy who tends to interrupt a lecture asking a question that’s about to answered–sometimes I need to just wait for the whole thing :)

          • David Rogers says

            No problem. I prefer for commenters to go ahead and bring these types of questions to the table now while they are on our minds rather than forgetting about them later on when the series is done.

  9. Bill Pfister says

    In future articles I’d like to hear a discussion about how this should be applied to the current focus in missions on people-groups. It makes sense to target a people group based on language differences if there is no viable church in their language, but at what point can we stop focusing on differences and focus on commonalities? I often wonder what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 24:14 when He spoke of this Gospel of the Kingdom being preached to all ethne… how far did Jesus break it down? I’d like that answer!

    • David Rogers says

      Bill, Yes, that is a major issue related to thus whole discussion. For now, I will say, if it helps us to identify and get the gospel to people who are not being currently reached by the gospel (i.e. the “hidden peoples” concept), that is a good thing. But if the gospel we are getting to them is a gospel that teaches them it us okay to live isolated and separate from our brother or sister in Christ on the other side of town, or even in some cases in our same village or neighborhood, as in some caste-based approaches in India, that is not so good. One place where the rubber really meets the road with regard to this question is that of exclusively MBB churches and the Insider movements of South Asia.

  10. Bart Barber says


    With anticipation I await the future installments. I think we are almost entirely in agreement on this question. Whether that will be refreshing, boring, encouraging, or disturbing for you I’ll leave for you to determine!

  11. Dave Miller says

    David, one more thing (and maybe this is already in a future discussion).

    I’m wondering if a healthy dose otraditionaly-church concept solves some of these difficulties. My church leans traditional and conservative. Let’s say there is an Assembly church next door (there is), a black church down the street, a cowboy church two blocks away and a rock and roll church a little farther away. Each has a distinct cultural divide. But as long as we bless each other and maintain fellowship from congregation to congregation, is that sufficient? It seems like a healthy city-church concept solves some issues.

    • David Rogers says


      While I think this would be a step in the right direction for many, no, I do not think it is ultimately sufficient, especially if it allows people to keep those different from them at arm’s length and never really get to know them and share true fellowship with them. At the same time, though, the most counterproductive thing may likely be carte blanche condemning and throwing under the bus existing congregations. We must gently (and, at times, not quite so gently) work with folks and lead them toward greater unity. This does not entail a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach to the HUP, though. I believe we must attack it (or at least its abuses) at its theological and gospel-deficient root, and that we must teach our people full-fledged gospel-centered unity in hope of seeing some positive change in the way we work things out in our lives practically.

      Separate congregations due to irreconcilable doctrinal differences are a separate matter. In this case, the only viable option may well be to have separate congregations while doing our best to maintain fellowship with all those who don’t embrace “damnable heresy.”

      It is here where I believe my distinction between fellowship and cooperation is important. We are called to practice, and I believe the gospel demands, fellowship with all true believers. On some practical matters, though, it is unproductive if not impossible to cooperate with those holding different positions on this or that secondary doctrinal matter.

      A local congregation, as I understand it, is a forum for both fellowship and cooperation. It is the cooperation aspect that justifies separate congregations on the basis of secondary doctrinal differences. But the legitimacy of separate congregations should never be an excuse for not seeking full fellowship with all the Body of Christ, even those with whom we cannot cooperate in the same local congregation.

      • David Rogers says

        Another point is that it is spitting in the wind, as it were, to think that a congregation that meets, for instance, in a housing project in inner-city Memphis is not going to be composed almost entirely of lower-income black congregants. In this respect, I think a good goal would be that a local congregation reflect the demographics of the neighborhood in which it is located. But I also think the “city church” in Memphis, to the degree it is functioning in a biblical way, must do everything possible to reach out to and embrace this inner-city congregation, and to help them to feel like full-fledged members of the greater Body of Christ in the wider community. And the inner-city congregation should take the a corresponding initiative to seek out broader fellowship beyond the confines of their cultural comfort zone, as well.

  12. says

    I do bridgebuilding work among several small groups and churches. My husband is a worship leader/musician so some of our itinerant ministry is born from invitations he receives. I was in the same SBC church for 36 years, helped start a mission church from that one and eventually moved to that one. So I’m inherantly loyal to a fault and God had to really give me a firm boot to get me to see my calling wasn’t in the church I grew up in. But when I did go…I visited a lot of different kinds of churches and synogogues. That is when I figured out who I am and my calling. So I guess you could say I am conversant now in various cultures, traditions and doctrines. My calling is biblical bridges of unity…however not all unity is biblical. ‘That they be one as I and my Father are one’…echad is Jesus fervent prayer the night before being fastened to the cross. ..the cross is the symbol of echad. Two sticks become one in His hand…and no bone broken. Bones -etsam and sticks- ets and flesh-besar are the heart of the besorah-gospel. When we have a handle on what these are we will know our path. Personally, discipleship does not mean inviting to church. I see individual and small groups such as the twelve, the inner circle working best. For this a pastor must start with his inner circle training them to begin their own inner circles…to train their own inner circles…and so on. We have lost this sitting on pews and letting committees tell us where to minister. I’m not a fan of growing individual churches. Sorry to those whose salaries depend upon it…I think there are too many places to lose people in the cracks in big churches. Possibly a few do it well. But you usually end up with a star preacher who is unapproachable. There is a reason cells divide and multiply when growing rather than just being one big blob…nutritional structure is served best when the ideal size. I think there is room for each cell being unique, but if not cohesive will die alone.

  13. says

    My personal thought is when there is a church split no matter the surface reason/conflict it was a nutritional deficiency of the cell structure at the root.

    • David Rogers says

      Dee, I agree that an often overlooked aspect of the practical application of gospel-centered unity is the cell-level fellowship “where,” similar to the TV show Cheers, “everybody knows your name.” But I also think there is a place for larger gatherings, and, as Dave mentions above, the practice of unity at the “city church” level.

  14. Mark Terry says

    As long as Ed Stetzer has my back I feel secure. :) Actually, in regard to planting language churches, more is involved than just understanding the language that is used. Different ethno-linguistic groups have different styles of leadership and worship. I believe we should respect those. I’m sure David does, also. In the USA I would like to see more (lots more) multi-congregational churches–churches with several different language congregations using the same facility. This model not only helps folks who need to worship in a language other than English, it provides ministry to the children and grandchildren of those folks. Typically, the second and third generations need ministry provided in English.

    • David Rogers says

      The issues involved on a practical level are no doubt complex. There is no cookie-cutter solution. I agree that multi-congregational churches for different language groups are a step in the right direction. I have been a part of a congregation comprised of primarily multi-generational Hispanics in which the older folks knew little English and many of the younger ones little Spanish. And I have also been a part of congregations like the one you describe in the Philippines where what seemed to join the people together was a common multi-culturalism. These are all realities which we must face with our eyes wide open. What I am arguing in my paper (which we will come to in due time in the other parts) is that we cannot allow a tacit acceptance of the HUP to excuse exclusive attitudes or even an assimiliationism that asks those from outside cultures to conform to a majority’s traditional way of doing things. The gospel at its core involves the truth communicated in Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests,”—or cultural preferences—“but also to the interests”—or cultural preferences—“of others.”

    • Nate says

      Dr. Terry,

      This is what we are doing at the church I pastor. We have a Burmese congregation using our facility. There are about 30-40 attending weekly, majority who are first-generation. We are looking at ways to integrate (fellowship meals, special services, etc.) but are also realizing that the children are bi-lingual (english/burmese). We have already involved them in our VBS and other children’s ministries. We are looking, in 2014, to get some ESL classes up and running for the adults.

      By the way, I sat under you at Southern, and am appreciative of your willingness to teach and to serve future generations.

    • says


      I’m on vacation in Miami. Don’t count on any help. Besides, you are the man I call my mentor and the one I call for advice.

      I do remember that time when a mutual friend of ours called the HUP “racist” in chapel. You about blew a gasket.

      Good times… well, sometimes. :-)


      P.S. I will read the posts– I am big David fan so this should be good.

      • Dwight McKissic says

        David G., Mark, Ed,

        I’ve heard at least 3-4 well respected African American preachers refer to the homogeneous approach to church growth as racist. I was told it was intended to be a cover to excuse & give approval to Whote Churches for not welcoming Blacks into their fold. I’ve never studied the HUP. I just know that concept got a bad rap in many circles. David addressed the fact that MacGavryn was not racist in this initial post. He explained the rationale behind the concept. But on the surface, it appears to me that the concept violates Scripture.

        I attended a Church Planters Church Growth Conference within the first couple of years that our church was started. The instructor asked: Did you bring your church growth manuals? We all looked askance & puzzeled at each other, wondering what book had we all not remembered to bring. The instructor then held up the Bible and said; I brought mine!!! He then calked out attention to the book of Acts & taught us growth principles based on the early church. It does not appear to me that the early church practiced the HUP concept, or perhaps I don’t understand the concept.

        • David Rogers says

          Dwight, Stay with me for the whole series, and you will learn a lot more about the HUP. I can say that the impetus for McGavran was not the white/black divide in the US, but rather his 38 years as a missionary in India, and the difficulties he witnessed in reaching people for Christ across caste lines.

          • Dwight McKissic says


            I am retiring for the evening after this comment/question, but, wouldn’t the caste system divide in India have paralleld with the Jim Crow system here? If the caste system was his impetus, I can see why some made the comparison to America’s White/Black divide. The reality though is, many Black Churches practice HUP and have never heard of it. Some are very intentional and forward about their target & preferred audience to reach is African Americans. ‘ Bout 10 yrs. ago, we were advertising that Joel Gregory would be preaching at our church. I received a call from a White gentleman sincerely asking if Whites were welcome or allowed to attend? Of course I answered, Yes!!! But I was puzzled and curious as to what motivated the question, so I asked him. He said that he’d heard that our church was Black, and he lived ’bout 40 mikes away. He said that he simply didn’t want to drive that far only to be rejected based on race. He said he’d never attended a Black Church before, so he simply didn’t know what to expect. The HUP concept, or at least as I understand it, produced the phone call that led the White brother to ask, would he be welcome. My guess is that’s why some would consider it racist. This will be one of the most thought provoking studies that we’ve read in quite sometime. Thanks again.

          • David Rogers says

            Dwight, Though indeed there are some parallels between any formalized racism such as Jim Crow and castes in India, there are also some dynamics in India that make it unique and very, very complex. It would probably be better to let someone with more personal experience in India speak to this, though. And it is important to remember McGavran did not invent the HUP. He only verbalized and developed the implications for church growth. The HUP in and of itself is as old as human nature. The first one whoever said “Birds of a feather flock together,” was already acknowledging the HUP. The problem with the HUP is not that it is not true. As I say in the post, on a purely human level, it is practically incontrovertible. The question is to what extent does the gospel call us to go against our natural tendencies and cultural norms, deny ourselves, take up the cross, and forge a new path.

  15. Dwight McKissic says


    You are on another planet.-:). You are trying to take the church to an optimum level. Your’s is a Scriptural ideal. I don’t know if I fully understand where you are going with this, but I appreciate what seems to be a non-compromising Kingdom approach to healthy churches & church planting. Today’s church is as divided as she has ever been, in part because long before Wagner & MacGavryn we have always engaged in some form of HUP.

    However the church at get birth was the church at her best. In Acts 6 we see the first fight in the church. The root cause was charged of discrimination based on ethnicity. The approach that I believe you’re advocating would lead to problems as we see in the chuch at Jerusalem(Act 6) but at least they were together @ they worked through their issues with the end result being church growth comprehensively as opposed to homogeneously.

    In Acts 13, Luke was led by the Holy Spirit to tell us that the leadership of the first Gentile Church consisted of 3 different ethnic groups, which again, flies in the face of th HUP.

    I eagerly await your conclusion & practical recommendations that are biblically based. Today’s church desperately needs it. And the time may be right for it. Thanks for sharing your research with us. Be encouraged. Happy New Year!!!

    • David Rogers says

      “You are on another planet.”

      Dwight, I will choose to take that as a compliment. I hope that what I am presenting here will cause us all to stretch our minds a bit.

      And by no means do I consider myself to have “arrived” with regard to the practical implications and implementation of all this. Real life is indeed messy, and I don’t think any of us have “arrived.” I know my own life is a far cry from a perfect putting all this into practice.

      But the Word of God is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,” and to the degree I am accurately expounding and applying what it says (once again, not presuming that I am infallibly doing so), I trust that the consequences will at times be revolutionary.

      I count it an honor to have you as a partner as we seek to work through all this together.

      • Dwight McKissic says

        “…to what extent does the gospel call us to go against our natural tendicies and cultural norms, take up the cross, and forge a new path.”


        That is a critical question. Could it be our unwillingness to “forge a new path” explains our inability to significantly and noticeably cross racial barriers? In order to become a church that represents the Kingdom & look like the Kingdom, we will have to forge a new path. Perhaps you might give us some direction as McGavyrn did many years ago, but hopefully one that is modeled in Scripture.

        By us maintaining our segregated churches after all these years, the message that we are sending out is: our culture is stronger than the gospel that we preach. Our churches should reflect the demographic make-up of the communities in which they exist.

        • Greg Buchanan says

          By us maintaining our segregated churches after all these years, the message that we are sending out is: our culture is stronger than the gospel that we preach.


          Kingdom culture cannot and should not be American, white, black, Southern, Western, fill-in-the-blank. It cannot.

          Nothing that I was/were prior to Jesus should have any eternal bearing on who I will be, otherwise 2 Cor 5:17 has no meaning. Applying this to the church, our cultural backgrounds are teh graves out of which we have been called to new life. You and I have different backgrounds, histories, upbringings, experiences, and those make for great stories/testimonies to how God has reached each one of us and met us where we are.

          And, these testimonies allow us to bring our perspective to light on how great is our God and Savior, Jesus; including how he spoke to me or you through this song or that sermon or this passage or that preacher. And through these shared experiences, we grow in one culture of praising His Name through Fanny Crosby, Steve Green, Bee Bee & Cee Cee, and Lacrae.

          When we focus on the message, we can learn to appreciate the vehicle for the praise of His Glory.

          • Dwight McKissic says


            Jesus’ prayer for unity for the purpose of evangelism in John 17: 21 seems to really fly into the face of the HUP; or does it? The HUP seems to run contrary to the prayer that Jesus prayed. If the world saw the kind of unity talked about in Jesus prayer, I believe we would see a mighty evangelistic harvest in America & the world.

  16. says

    I wonder if Mark Driscoll is addressing this with his overuse of the word “tribe”. Once upon a time there were less options for church in rural areas. You went to it because that’s all there was. There was no finding a church where you were comfortable. Part of your discipleship was learning to do church with people who had no choice but to go to church with you. While such groups were more homogenous than they are today, the discipline of loving people you wouldn’t hang out with otherwise is part of discipleship.

    Today you go into a church and not only is it clannish, but is subdivided into cliques. The problem is that people aren’t being discipled to learn to love and minister to those who they aren’t particularly drawn to, but who have been given to them to minister to.

    So here’s the thing: Do you start a church with one group of people by playing on their natural clannishness and then later try to open them up to getting outside of their comfort zone, or do tell them up front that they shouldn’t be clannish? If you stick with the clannish, someone will always be left out. Too often, it will include the one with a heart for those left out.

    • David Rogers says

      Jim, Great observations. I think the following line is even tweetable: “The discipline of loving people you wouldn’t hang out with otherwise is part of discipleship.”

    • Christiane says

      Our Lord had a heart for those who were ‘left out’, so I wonder what He would think about homogeneous groupings in a faith community based on things like ‘race’ so that its members were more ‘comfortable’ with each other ?

  17. Roger Simpson says

    I have one more question I’d like to toss into the mix. I once had a discussion with the Director of Church Planting for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. This discussion was several years ago and unfortunately [or fortunately] I can’t remember his name. But I could probably look it up.

    In any case, his thesis was that churches naturally go through life cycles due to various factors such as demographics. My own takeaway building on his thesis is that some churches [I mean “churches” to be “local congregations”] can’t be turned around. An example that the church planting expert gave was that the church at Ephesus is not there any more. Some where in the last 20 centuries the population of that place went to zero.

    One a more recent scale, here in Oklahoma City, churches in various neighborhoods started closing because the demographics since the 1950s has changed dramatically. For example, the Capital Heights section of OKC has shifted radically from an English language area back in the 1940s-1950s to a largely Hispanic area today. Many of the people who were in churches in that area [or their kids or grandkids] moved to the suburbs over the last 20 or 30 years and the churches they attended moved with them.

    When I say “moved with them” sometimes this happens literally. I know of at several congregations that sold their building downtown and moved to a suburban campus. They moved because “all” of their members now live out there.

    My bottom line point is churches [more accurately congregations in a given location] seem to undergo a natural evolution from birth to death and we may be fooling ourselves to think that we have more than tangential leverage on the “cultural makeup” and physical location of various congregations in the area.

    Put another way, no matter how much people study church planting and missiology, church planters probably only have a short term effect on the landscape. Cultural trends and demographics likely play a bigger role than most want to acknowledge.

    Consider Detroit or the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Most church planters probably are attracted to “fast growing” areas where there are target populations they want to reach. Detroit and the Ninth Ward have huge negative growth. So they don’t meet the “fast growing” criterion.

    • David Rogers says

      Roger, A great case in point where all of this plays into the mix. I think in this situation we have to also take into consideration the imperative to reach as many as possible with the gospel, and to be the best stewards we can be with the resources God commends into our hands. And keeping a dying church on life support may not always be the best stewardship. But another important factor is bearing testimony to the transcultural unity of the gospel. And in my experience, this factor tends to comparatively get swept under the carpet.

    • says

      “Most church planters probably are attracted to “fast growing” areas where there are target populations they want to reach. Detroit and the Ninth Ward have huge negative growth. So they don’t meet the “fast growing” criterion.”

      And those church planters that do want to go there will not find themselves lauded or well-funded in many cases, because there’s no “success” to celebrate. Who invites the church planter with little-to-no-growth to speak when you can get the church planter with 1,000 new members?

      That part plays back into our definition of successful ministry.

      The moving churches out of neighborhoods is a dicey one–I would love to have seen a good many churches that followed their congregations into the suburbs do a better job of passing the torch of ministry in an area rather than just selling a building. How many of our current urban church plants are within a quarter mile of where there used to be churches? Especially in the SBC? I know of at least 3 in metro Arkansas areas that are being planted in the shadows of where prior congregations bailed out years ago–and two more congregations that made the move years ago that are in the planning phase of replanting a church in their own old building.

  18. Dwight McKissic says

    Doug and David R.,

    One of the fastest growing churches in America, in the top 100, is in Deteoit. I don’t recall the name of the church–the word “Revelation” I believe is a part if that church’s name. But I only mention this to show that a church can grow & grow expeditiously in a town with a rapidly declining population and is economically depressed. Don’t know if this info is in anyway relevant to the subject at hand; but, inasmuch as Detroit had been mentioned as an unlikely attractive place to church planters, because of her rapidly declining population , I found it interesting that whoever planted the “Revelation Church”(?), in recent years, sure defied the odds, and traditional thinking regarding church growth and plants.

  19. Greg Harvey says

    While not specifically commenting on HUP, I will note that missionary work frequently depends on crossing cultural boundaries. I recall Jeremy Parks’ article on whether or not to expect his children to participate in the services for the “people group” he and his wife are reaching. I think that level of thought (and thoughtfulness) is required to tease apart this issue.

    I very much enjoyed going to the (Bahasa Indonesia, or national language) service in Madiun, Indonesia and in Bandung prior to that when my parents were appointed to Indonesia. Recently we lost my first “high school” pastor Bob Allen who led the English-language “international” service at Kebayoran Baptist in Jakarta where the MKs at the Hostel (a dormitory for high schoolers in the capital city) went to church and interacted with a huge number of the ex-pat teenagers especially during Sunday evening fellowship sessions at various people’s houses.

    I wasn’t good enough with Indonesian to follow the “pendeta” (pastor) when he preached, though I usually could keep up with “missi” when they preached. But Bob Allen had a very special relationship with the internationals in Jakarta and it was stunning the number of people who had been touched by his ministry in Jakarta. And that congregation was exactly how you might imagine it with all of those English-language speakers attending v. the Indonesian-language service earlier in the morning.

    I have a remaining affection for both, of course. And when I was with my parents it was part of feeling that I was “on mission” with them (a comment I shared on Jeremy’s article as well.) But the first church where I was “by myself” (though with friends and under the leadership of “Hostel Parents”) was also very special to me.

    My concern is that it is tempting to generalize when the Bible leads us to expect that we will receive very specific leadership for each situation. Whatever conclusion we reach as we discuss this, I hope we’ll remember that the availability of the Holy Spirit for specific “nudges” (if not more explicit direction at times) remains the same today as in the early days of “the” church.

    I hope that some of our commenters will submit to prayer and seek memories that illustrate this principle and how it interacts with more general “prescriptive” guidance like McGavran’s. Those insights could be the most helpful result from this conversation.

    • David Rogers says

      Greg, Thanks for your comment. I definitely believe that biblical missiology involves concerted efforts at crossing cultural boundaries. And I see where there can sometimes be a tension between this and what it may seem I am saying in this first post. Keep with me, and hopefully some of the tension may be resolved… or not. We’ll see.

      And a reminder that I am not saying that we all need to speak the same language in church. There is a definitely a time and a place for church meetings in all the different languages of the earth, as far as I understand it. But we do need, even in spite of language barriers, to do everything we can to maintain fellowship on a practical level with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, even if we don’t speak the same language.

  20. Ron West says


    Back in the middle 80s I took the Foundations of Church Growth course from Fuller taught by Peter Wagner and based on McGavran’s Church Growth principles including the HUP. I was in Taiwan at the time and listened to Wagner’s lectures on tape. I found the course very helpful. I had occasion to look back over The Bridges of God a few years ago and felt there was still much to offer us today in McGavran’s ideas. I do believe, as you have pointed out, McGavran wrote the book based on his experience in India working in a cross cultural situation among people who had little knowledge of the gospel. That is why sometimes people in the US try to interpret his HUP based on their experience in a fairly homogeneous environment and judge his ideas based on a misinterpretation of what he is saying. McGavran was looking for the best method to start a People Movement among an undiscipled group or unreached people group in an indigenous way. This is almost always going to happen among people who are related in by some circumstance. It may be language, ethnicity, economic situation, customs or other relationships. Often the Church Growth material I have read in the states is based on nothing more than increasing attendance at church

    I appreciated Mark Terry’s comments that most often the common factor is language. In Taiwan we have Chinese Churches that meet using Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka and a couple of other dialects. They can best hear and understand the gospel in their heart language. They still cooperate and fellowship together as Baptist.

    If you are still reading these posts Mark, I am not sure if we have met but I have known of you for years since we lived in the same part of the world. We have several mutual friends including one who returned to Taiwan last week. Sometime when I cross the Mississippi from Arkansas I would like to stop and visit with you.

    I look forward to reading David’s posts. I may get my notes out from the 80s and see how they compare.

    • David Rogers says

      Ron, Good to know there are several of you here who have done your homework, so to speak, on the HUP. Let me know if I say anything along the way that is a misrepresentation or unfair characterization. I look forward to the dialogue as we get more into the nitty gritty in the upcoming posts.

  21. Mark Terry says

    For missionaries, deciding on the language to use is a strategic decision, and often a difficult one. This pertains to the language to learn and speak with the people, and it also relates to translating the Bible. In the southern Philippines where we served for many years, in many locations there was a tribal language, an regional trade language (Cebuano), and the national language (Tagalog). Which to use? I believe this must be decided on a case by case basis.

    It is easy to see how folks in the USA see the HUP as racist; however, this was NOT McGavran’s intention. In the late 1950s he write an article in which he explained how North American churches could integrate. You probably know Kevin Cosby, pastor of St. Stephen’s Baptist Church in Louisville. Some years ago we were at a conference together, and he told me that he affirmed the HUP. That surprised me, and I asked him why. He said, “If we all must conform to the majority, then minority churches will lose their distinctiveness.”

    I don’t know you personally, but our mutual friend, Doug, believes you are great. Sure, stop and Memphis for a chat. We’ll eat barbecue and get acquainted. Maybe David Rogers can join us.

  22. Andy says

    I would love too hear some of your thoughts about how this all relates to churches intentionally offering multiple worship services based solely on different music styles…ie, a “contemporary” service and a “traditional” service.

    Full disclosure at the beginning, I tend to think it’s not a good idea.

    • Greg Buchanan says

      My church does this as well and I agree: bad idea.

      It lends to folks herding ONLY with those with whom they have something in common. Unfortunately, it reinforces that “musical preference” as a descriptor is MORE important than “saved by Jesus” as a descriptor.

    • David Rogers says

      I would agree. Generally not a good idea. But I don’t want to throw everyone who does this under the bus without knowing the specifics of the case and their motives for doing so.

      • tom bryant says

        We have 2 different services based on musical style. The sermon is the same and it has worked for us. We don’t call them by musical style, but by time and explain there is different music.

        I think it is a hugely simplistic idea that the people define themselves by musical style rather than by “saved by Jesus”.

        It allows us to reach different kinds of people. Sarasota is a retirement community. But the people who come to the services tend to be different not by age so much as when they were saved. If someone was saved in the 50’s or so, they come to the more tradtional service simply because that was what they grew up with. Those who were saved later on in life have no history with the “great hymns of the faith” and feel more at home with less traditional music.

        We must do things that keep us from becoming 2 churches inhabiting the same bldg. So we often have unified services and they do both kinds of music in the service. But after we do that, inevitably, people who go to either service will say, “I enjoyed it, but I am looking forward to being back in ‘our’ service.”

    • says

      I know a lot of churches that do that. 90% of the time it doesn’t work out well. My church has two identical services that blend old hymns and newer worship music, but we do it in a coherent way. We have a small orchestra, organ, piano, percussion (including drum set, timpani and auxiliary percussion), guitars, choir and praise team. We have orchestral arrangements of new pieces as well as updated orchestral arrangements of older hymns. Among the newer stuff is a wide array of styles such as southern gospel, black gospel, indie and jazz. It works well. Many people start coming because of the music and end up staying because of the teaching. You won’t get that if they see a worship war going on.

      Most churches won’t be able to do the orchestral thing. However, a good worship leader can implement style controls to homogenize diverse music (even if all you have is a piano) and, in cooperation with a good pastor, direct the focus away from the music to the worship of God. That should always be the goal.