The Homogenous Unit Principle of Church Planting Methodology and its Relevance to Caste, Culture and the Urbanisation of India

Submitted by Tim Svoboda for TL 624i, 724i Global Theological Issues: Postmodernism, Hinduism and Christianity in Urban India

1. Introduction

In this short paper I will attempt to look at the church planting methodology that revolves around the Homogenous Unit Principle and the changing caste dynamics in Urban India that are fuelled by the mass urbanization and trends of globalization. While the Homogenous Unit Principle has been a key tool used thus far in planting churches across India, I propose to show that the changing urban scenario and the demands of the gospel in light of the evil of the caste system demand a rethinking of church planting methodology.

2. The Caste System

A short introduction of the caste system is important in understanding the broader topic. In the book Hinduism, edited by John Hinnells and Eric Sharpe, it says, The caste system was instituted by a people known as the Aryans. The Aryans established themselves in the Punjab and then gradually advanced eastwards. This was not an organized invasion of India, but was a part of a whole series of ethnic movements that affected both Europe and Asia. These Brahmins or Aryans as they were called came in to India somewhere between 1500 and 2000 B.C. G.S. Ghurye says, “It appears they conquered a dark people.”   In conquering the original inhabitants of the country and wanting to control their place, they instituted what has become to be known as the caste system. M.N. Srinivas says, “The caste system is organized into four sectors. The Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishya and Sudras. The Scheduled Castes, formerly known as the depressed classes, forms the fifth order of the four fold society of Hindu theory of caste.”  G.S. Ghurye writes that caste is, “a Brahminic child which was purposely tainted with religious values to add dominion and power control over the lower castes.” 


The caste system according to Ghurye as seen above was invented to give the Brahmins power over those who are under them. Caste permeates all of society. The caste system has the following features: It gives a division of the society. It produces a hierarchy with the Brahmins as the supreme rulers. It details restrictions on food, water, and social interactions amongst the various castes and therefore has promoted a theory of pollution. It clarifies the civil and religious functions of each caste group. It restricts job occupation according to caste and finally it restricts intermarriage.

To illustrate this pollution theory we find in the Laws of Manu the following:

If a man of the lowest caste injures a man of a higher caste with some particular part of his body, that very part of his body should be cut off.  If a man raises his hand or a stick, he should have his hand cut off; if in anger he strikes with his foot, he should have his foot cut off.  If a man of inferior caste tries to sit down on the same seat as a man of superior caste, he should be branded on the hip and banished, or have his buttocks cut off.  If in his pride he spits on him, the king should have his two lips cut off; if he urinates on him, the penis; if he farts at him, the anus.  If he grabs him by the hair, or by the feet, the beard, the neck, or the testicles, (the king) should unhesitatingly have his hands cut off.

From these descriptions, we can easily observe the distinct separations that caste provides in Indian society. There is a superiority based on colour and the caste one is born into. This superiority has been worked out in such a way that touching, interaction, and mixing with others from another caste brings pollution. The caste system is not just a social order but also an evil system that has produced slavery and oppression. Lancy Lobo states, “This traditional social order gives the upper castes economic privileges, social security and power.”  The Brahminical leaders are intent on keeping this system in place in order to preserve their benefits. However, in doing so they are propagating an evil system that is no less than slavery.

Dr. Kalai of the Dravidian Spiritual Movement gives the four stages of Slavery below which then leads to the 5th stage of racism and the 6th stage of casteism. In understanding the theory that Dr. Kalai gives we need to see that casteism is a religiously sanctioned form of Racism.


First stage - Ethnic Groups
Society living as ethnic groups all over the world.
Second stage – Political Power:
Amongst the ethnic groups political power emerges – petty rulers. 
Third Stage – Control over other ethnic group:
When one ethnic group defeated and won the other ethnic group it started controlling the defeated ethnic group.
Fourth Stage- Slavery:
The conquering ethnic group starts enslaving the vanquished ethnic group and rules over them.
Fifth Stage- Racism
When a ruling ethnic group wants permanently to maintain slavery over another ethnic group once defeated by them, forms a new philosophy to justify enslavement. In this manner Racism emerges as a philosophy. Biological factors, genes, skin pigmentation, colour differentiation and similar factors… are focused and described as various criteria to justify racism.
Sixth Stage- Casteism


If the ruling ethnic group is a minority and the enslaved ethnic group is majority, it is natural for the ruling minority to have a fear about the majority group that they would unite together and de-thrown the minority at any opportune time. Therefore the ruling minority group is forced to keep the majority weak by fragmenting them into so many divisions and making the divisions to hate and degrade each other.  In India this has been achieved by introducing a graded group system called the caste system. For the majority to be fragmented into so many divisions and making them to hate, degrade and fight against each other, the religious beliefs of the majority have been utilized. For this, the minority has twisted and misinterpreted the religious beliefs of the majority according to the selfish and designs of the minority-ruling group.

The Brahminical Hindu leadership is committed to preserving caste as a social order in India. Lancy Lobo says the following. “Any attack on the caste system of India is interpreted by the upper castes as an attack on the Hindu religion. Brahminic Hinduism and the caste system are two sides of the same coin.”  Christianity is a small minority religion in India. So why are the Hindus so concerned about the evangelism of Christians? It is not because they are afraid of losing their religion. Lobo states,“It is obvious that the Christians and their churches are not a threat to the Hindu religion, but to traditional Hindu social order. Christianity has undermined the inegalitarian social order by consistently working among ex-untouchables, tribals and other lower castes. These have been escaping the net of the upper castes that largely belong to the ruling BJP. Cheap labour from the lower strata is slipping away from their control. The lower classes by seeking upward mobility are claiming a share of the economic cake enjoyed so far by the middle and upper castes. The caste system therefore is being used for oppression. It is not just a division of labour in society. It is slavery that has religious sanctions and is an evil force.

Graham Houghton commenting on the evil of the caste system said, “Caste could no more coalesce with Christianity than fire with water, or light with darkness, for the two were diametrically opposed to each other.”  Keeping this in mind we now turn to examine the Homogenous Unit Principle which employs the caste system for spontaneous church planting movements.

3. Homogenous Unit Principle

The Homogenous Unit Principle must be understood in light of the topic of caste and urbanization. It cannot be discussed outside of these two issues because the Homogenous Unit Principle works along caste lines. Further caste is changing in the rapid urbanization of India as we will discuss later. Therefore a short introduction of the history of the Homogenous Unit Principle, what it is and how it operates is essential to draw some conclusions at the end of this paper. William Kirk tells us, The Homogenous Unit Principle was formulated by Dr. Donald McGavran in his work in India in the 1930’s. McGavran was bothered by the slow growth of the churches and set out to find out why they were doing so poorly. Over a period of seventeen years he studied 145 mission stations and eventually published his findings in 1955 in a controversial book called "The Bridges of God."

Its classic expression is found in McGavran’s Understanding Church Growth:

People like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers...." A "homogeneous unit" is simply a group of people who consider each other to be "our kind of people." They have many areas of mutual interest. They share the same culture. They socialize freely. When they are together they are comfortable and they all feel at home. Thomas Rainer explains, First, rapid evangelization takes place best when people of a culture share their faith in Jesus Christ with others within their own culture. Second, Christians must not insist that a person abandon his or her culture in order to become a Christian. Such is the essence of the homogeneous unit principle.McGavran wrote, The homogeneous unit is simply a section of society in which all the members have some characteristic in common. Thus a homogeneous unit (or HU, as it is called in church growth jargon) might be a political unit or subunit, the characteristic in common being that all the members live within certain geographical confines....The homogeneous unit may be a segment of society whose common characteristic is a culture or language, as in the case of Puerto Ricans in New York City or Chinese in Thailand....The homogeneous unit might be a tribe or caste.


Wagner wrote in Frontiers in Missionary Strategy, in a chapter entitled, "Strategy for Urban Evangelism," he says, “Try not to allow diverse social and cultural elements to mix on the congregational level any more than necessary. Churches must be built as much as possible within homogeneous units if they are to maintain a sense of community among believers.” From this we see that especially in India churches have been planted along caste lines and encouraged to remain along caste lines. Peter Wagner and Donald McGavran called this a vital sign of a healthy growing church. An unhealthy church would be those that have a mixed caste membership.
The following statement of McGavran illustrates how he deemphasized the caste issue as something that was evil. He saw it more as something that needed to be tolerated and even used to increase church growth. He says about the church, It grows within some social stratum. If to the necessary difficulties of denying self and following the Lord Jesus are added the unnecessary abandoning of one’s own race (caste in Mid-India) and joining another, then church growth will inevitably be slow. Great growth has almost always been caste-wise. When the Church has made its greatest strides, individuals became Christian with their fellow tribesmen, with their kindred and with their people.


Donald McGavran continues in another article about the superior method of caste movements that respond to Christ’s message. As you look around the world you see that, while most missionaries succeed in planting only conglomerate churches by the “one by one out of the social group” method, here and there clusters of growing churches arise by the people-movement method. They arise by tribe-wise or caste-wise movements to Christ. This is in many ways a better system. The concern of McGavran and those in the church growth movement is quick growth. That is a real and legitimate concern in India where the conversion rate is hardly keeping up with the growth in population. McGavran and those in the church growth movement are to be admired for their commitment to the spreading of Christianity in India. In a paper written by a researcher of people movements to Christ in India, he says, “Another weakness of integrated churches is a historical problem; the integration of believers from several cultural backgrounds has weakened or destroyed most potential movements. ….Opposition comes out of dislocated social relationships. McGavran and Pickett’s findings showed all known persecution came out of breaking social norms, not out of religious beliefs.”


What is being pointed out here by this researcher is that persecution in India mainly takes place when caste is denounced because that is what keeps the social-economic order in place by the ruling Brahmins. Again the church growth movement is more concerned about exponential growth than transformation of a social evil. Lobo as we have already seen states clearly that Christianity is no threat to Hinduism but to the social order of Hinduism. He continues, About 90% of missionaries and active churches use one by one methods, and produce about 15% of the fruit. 10% of the missionaries produce 85% of the fruit. It is not a character or integrity issue. It is a strategy issue, and a willingness to understand the dynamics of culture. Almost 90% of Christians in India today are descendants of mass social movements into the Kingdom. Therefore the Homogenous Unit Principle strategy was brought about to create people movements into Christianity. While it is effective in this design it avoids the issue of the evil nature of caste in society. Further by avoiding the issue it tends to strengthen the caste by keeping Christians silent about breaking away from it. Later I will discuss the confusion between caste and culture as most church planting material that I have examined avoids the distinction between the two. But before I get to that I need to review the way in which Urbanization is affecting the caste mentality in India.


4. Urbanization of India and how it is affecting caste

The changing situation in India from rural to urban is greatly effecting the caste situation in India. David Lundy commenting on the shifting world population says, While migration has always occurred—such as the Israelites moving en masse from Egypt to Palestine—the rate of crossing borders in the last century has been unprecedented in human history. Demetrios Papademetriou of the International Migration Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace in Washington D.C. “indicates that 200 million people, or 3% of the world’s population, live in a country in which they were not born. This demographic shift has in turn altered mono-cultural societies into multicultural ones. This is no less true in the current situation in Indian cities.

Richard F. Nyrop says about the changing situation in India with mass urbanization, Accelerating urbanization is powerfully affecting the transformation of Indian society. Slightly more than 26 percent of the country's population is urban, and in 1991 more than half of urban dwellers lived in 299 urban agglomerates or cities of more than 100,000 people. By 1991 India had twenty-four cities with populations of at least 1 million. By that year, among cities of the world, Bombay (or Mumbai, in Marathi), in Maharashtra, ranked seventh in the world at 12.6 million, and Calcutta, in West Bengal, ranked eighth at almost 11 million. In the 1990s, India's larger cities have been growing at twice the rate of smaller towns and villages. Between the 1960s and 1991, the population of the Union Territory of Delhi quadrupled, to 8.4 million, and Madras, in Tamil Nadu, grew to 5.4 million. Bangalore, in Karnataka; Hyderabad, in Andhra Pradesh; and many other cities are expanding rapidly. About half of these increases are the result of rural-urban migration, as villagers seek better lives for themselves in the cities. Ghurye says about the changing caste situation in India, “Also the growth of city life with its migratory population has given rise to hotels and restaurants where city people have been forced to put aside their old ideas of purity, but eating food prepared possibly by other castes, and by sitting along with men and women of different castes. Distance pollution has also been done away with scavengers, not only coming near, but entering houses which have to be cleaned.”

From the Library of Congress studies on India it says the following about the changing caste situation in India: The growth of urbanization (an estimated 26 percent of the population now lives in cities) is having a far-reaching effect on caste practices, not only in cities but in villages. Among anonymous crowds in urban public spaces and on public transportation, caste affiliations are unknown, and observance of purity and pollution rules is negligible. Distinctive caste costumes have all but vanished, and low-caste names have been modified, although castes remain endogamous, and access to employment often occurs through intracaste connections. Restrictions on interactions with other castes are becoming more relaxed, and, at the same time, observance of other pollution rules is declining--especially those concerning birth, death, and menstruation. Several growing Hindu sects draw members from many castes and regions, and communication between cities and villages is expanding dramatically. Kin in town and country visit one another frequently, and television programs available to huge numbers of villagers vividly portray new lifestyles. As new occupations open up in urban areas, the correlation of caste with occupation is declining.

Kamal Sehgal sheds light on the changing caste scenario in India that is being affected by a free market. He says, Free market, precisely means a kind of market that is characterized by the presence of freedom to undertake the production of goods and services and a large numbers of producers in the market leading to cut-throat competition. Free market can do a lot in squashing the caste system. Even the most racist businessman eventually realizes that the hatred towards the color of the skin or the caste must not come in between his love for the color of their money. That is how people tend to be well mannered, even if they hate you. In a free market, there are large numbers of producers and customers; every module has got his self interest. The producer wants to maximize his profit by utilizing the potential of market as well as his own firm. The customer tries to maximize his marginal utility at the possible lowest price. These two players are solely responsible for the functioning of the market.

Robert Hardgrave points out how the Nadars of Tamil Nadu have gone through a transformation of their caste because of urbanization. He says,The traditional correspondence between economic position and social status lost its significance, for within the Nadar community itself there was an increasingly wide range of occupations and economic positions-from the toddy tapper to the trader and businessman and the professional. The demands of deference to new economic status in the urban areas of change were beginning to erode the hierarchy of ritual purity and, with increasing differentiation within the Nadar community, a dispersion of political support followed. A.J. Tharamangalam comments on how Christian influence has changed the concept of purity and pollution. He says, It seems clear, for example, that Christian influence has considerably eroded the idea and practice of purity and pollution. As Caplan has noted, however, the ideology of castelessness has much greater impact on those Christians who have also managed to remove themselves from their historical caste milieus, from the complex network of economic, social and political relations, in which caste is embedded. Many Protestant Christians of urban Madras have been removed from this milieu both because of their urban context and because they came to Christianity through individual rather than mass conversion movements.

Dipanker Gupta commenting on caste and urbanization says, What must be emphasized at the outset is that the caste system is dying, but caste identities are still strong…If there is a single factor that has contributed to the breakdown of the caste system, it is urbanization…Urbanisation has meant that the hitherto subjugated communities have an option now other than being locked into rural jobs….What democracy and urbanization have done is indeed quite remarkable. They have destroyed the caste system and let loose political mobilizations and social competition based on caste identities. It is therefore abundantly clear from the above texts that the caste situation in Urban India is undergoing changes. Caste identities as Gupta says are not dead but caste is slowly dying. This is fundamental in arriving at some conclusions for what kind of churches need to be planted in urban India and how do believers address the caste system.  Before coming to those conclusions I now turn to look at the confusion that exists in those doing church planting between caste and culture.

5. Confusion between Caste and Culture

In this section I want to briefly examine the confusion between caste and culture for herein I believe lays the main problem for those using the Homogenous Unit Principle in church growth strategy. Caste has been lumped in with culture. I have shown earlier that caste is evil and therefore an exclusive use of the Homogenous Unit Principle without taking into consideration the evils of casteism is indeed a shallow approach to church planting. McGavran in addressing contextualization says,The third principle is to encourage converts to remain thoroughly one with their own people in most matters. They should continue to eat what their people eat. They should not say, “My people are vegetarians but, now that I have become a Christian, I am going to eat meat.” After they become Christians they should be more rigidly vegetarian than they were before. In the matter of clothing, they should continue to look precisely like their kinfolk. In the matter of marriage, most people are endogamous, they insist that “our people marry only our people.” They look with great disfavor on our marrying other people.

So far so good! What McGavran is addressing above are matters of culture though underlying the issue of marriage is a prejudiced attitude towards others of a different background yet we can allow some understanding in this area. But let us look a bit further into matters from those advocating the exclusive use of the Homogenous Unit Principle. In the paper Pandit Purana the author writes,We want converts to remain identified with their community. Their food does not need to change. Marriage within caste can continue. They should continue to dress like their community. There will be some exclusion and persecution, especially to the early converts. In I Corinthians 7: 17-24 the believers were strongly encouraged to retain the social position (distinctives) that they were in, whether Jewish or Gentile, slave or free. Can not a Mahratta believer be culturally Maharatta? Can not a Chakkiliyan believer be culturally Chakkiliyan? In India, religion is not organized, but society is. In the West, religion is organized, not society. In India the social emphasis is on the family and community. In the West the focus is on the individual.

The author is right in stating that society is organized in India but not religion. However, it is that exact organization of society that is a social evil. Further, by admitting this and not addressing the issue of how caste divides society the author is sanctioning a church planting methodology to keep society organized which is no less what the Brahminical Hindu movement is doing. The motives of the people in the Church Growth Movement are certainly well intentioned for the sake of expanding the Kingdom of God but that does not make them right.

In an unpublished paper on contextualization and church planting amongst Hindus, one organization notes the following forms of Hinduism that it allows, disallows, and the ones that are debatable to be followed within their contextualized worship services. They are:

1. Cultural/Relgious forms the Bible speaks against: Idolatry, self immolation (sati) asceticism for secret knowledge, sexual religious practices, eating meat with blood, magical practices.
2. Cultural/Religious forms the Bible Speaks about: face marking (tika/tilak), incense (agarbathi/dhoop), candles and lamps (Deepak/kapoor), grain and first fruits offering, flowers, praying in certain positions, washing hands before worship, using cultural poetry/philosophy, wearing beards, cutting hair for vows.
3. Cultural/Religious forms the Bible does not speak about: Divali celebrations, Holi celebrations, architecture/room setup, marriage ceremonies, burning bodies for funeral, hair cutting for fathers death etc. ….
4. A list of things we all agree can be used in worship/satsang/puja and other evangelistic efforts. Flowers, sitting on floor, bhajans in local language, use of dholas, harmonium, majaras, etc, use of indigenous food items in communion, different ways of doing baptism with water, distribution of sweets, praying (namaskar/anjali) style, simple biblical chants, use of rewritten film songs.
5. A list of things we all agree can NOT be used in worship/satsang/puja: Idols, pictures of idols, swinging of arthi, other religious scriptures (should not be present)


Although this is a very good list of items that can be included in a contextualized approach that is desperately need very noticeably missing from the paper mentioned above is caste and how to deal with it. Caste is assumed in the paper to be part of the culture. There are no instructions within this organization to their church planters on whether caste is evil or not. This particular organization is planting churches amongst low and high caste people using the Homogenous Unit Principle methodology. At the same time the need for a contextualized Christianity is much needed in church planting today. Manilal Parekh points out, “the so called ‘Indian Christian Churches’ form a community among other Indian communities and not a church transcending them.”  Christianity is highly westernized today in India. Most mainline churches have chairs and the preacher stands before a pulpit to give his sermon. There are no sitars or veenas that are used in most churches today and the songs that are commonly sung are from western hymnals. Why can’t our Indian preachers deliver their messages while sitting on the floor, burning incense as a sweet fragrance to the Lord, breaking a coconut to explain the death of Christ or singing bhajans instead of English hymns? These are cultural items that could be contextualized into Christianity. Herbert Hoefer is right when he says, The common Protestant reaction to the close association of Indian culture with Hindu religion has been to develop a separate culture for the new religion: differences in devotions, festivals, names, appearance, lifestyle, worship, gestures, etc. If you are to join this religion, you must get accustomed to its culture. This is the basis for all the accusations about a ‘forsaking’ of the family heritage.


In a testimony from “A Caste Hindu Tells Her Story”, B.V. Subbamma shares about her difficulty in converting to Christianity. She states in her testimony that she became interested in the Bible only after seeing a devoted Hindu (Brahmin) reading the Bible. Though she wanted to take baptism she did not want to join another community that was of a lower caste than her. She says, It is often said that in discipling Hindus, the crux of the problem lies in baptism. This is not true for the rite of baptism itself. The water, the complete dedication to a special deity, the words--all of these are common in Hinduism. The crux of the problem lies in one significant detail only--that baptism is believed to entail leaving one community and joining another. And this it does only at the beginning of any movement to Christ. No Harijan today joining the Lutheran Church,leaves his people. Rather he joins the advance guard of his ethnic unit. But every Hindu joining the Lutheran Church apparently has to leave his own people and "become a Christian" which means not merely the rite of baptism but the abandonment of one's own culture and kindred. Of course, all my family and relatives were terribly upset; some of them came and pleaded with me not to identify myself with the Harijans. They did not have any objection for my believing in the Lord, but they could not see me leaving the Kammas and joining another community. ….In presenting the Gospel to the world, the main problem the Church has to deal with is how to present Christ so that men can truly follow Him without leaving their kindred.

While this is true and we need homogenous churches that quickly multiply along ethnic and caste lines, the main problem is not how a person can truly follow Christ without leaving their kindred. The main issue is how the gospel relates to the problem of racism that Brahminical Hinduism propagates. Thus a new believer from a high caste background needs to be instructed on this social sin so they renounce it as evil. At the same time they need to be instructed on how to stay within their community so the gospel spreads. He may choose to stay attached to his community but he may not choose to stay attached to what is evil within the community. This is what I find lacking in the homogenous methodology. There is an avoidance on the subject in their writings lest they kill the spontaneous church growth they are working for. B.V. Subbamma does say later on in the article that she has no desire to perpetrate caste distinctions but she believes separate caste churches are a temporary matter until things can be smoothed over in the future.
Yet Missions Frontiers continues to confuse the issue.

They conclude from this testimony that, The main issue is that the Harijans and the caste Hindus are in two different homogeneous units as we have explained. Church growth theory affirms that to attempt to plant one large conglomerate Church composed of a few Christians from each and every subculture, arguing that brotherhood demands it and insisting on integration first whether the Church grows or not, is both a self-defeating policy and not required by Biblical faith. While I agree there may need to be two separate churches with their own indigenous expressions that are relevant to their own communities there must be public repentance, restitution, and genuine change in worldview in both homogenous camps that demonstrate a new outlook on one another. This is the main problem of the church growth strategy in that it substitutes the theological principles of reconciliation and repentance for numerical growth. Christians have been silent and guilty in India for a long time on the issue of caste. While India is changing quickly due to urbanization, Christians are losing their prophetic voice as we remain entangled and voiceless on the caste issue. Mission work continues to employ the Homogenous Unit Principle without serious reflection on the caste issue in the light of the changing urban scenario.

6. Conclusion and Solutions

Eddie Gibbs says, “Whether intended or not on the part of McGavran, Wagner, Arn and others in the American Church Growth Movement, the emphasis on homogeneous units tends to stress cultural differences to such a degree that oneness, togetherness, the universality of the Gospel is in danger of being lost.” Chuck Van Engen in trying to strike a balance says, On the one hand, when particularity is over-emphasized, as has been the case with the HUP, atomization and fragmentation may occur. On the other hand, when universality is over-emphasized it tends to blind us to cultural distinctives and often will move us to superimpose one particular dominant cultural perspective on all others. Both of these possibilities may have disastrous and hurtful consequences in multi-ethnic and even multi-congregational settings.

McGavran arguing his point for homogenous churches puts it bluntly: “America is not a melting pot in which all metals are speedily reduced to a single comprehensive alloy. Rather, what used to be called the new world is a curry in which potatoes are still potatoes and chunks of meat are still meat." McGavran uses the illustration of curry above which the ingredients are side by side yet distinctive and adding flavour to one another.  A more accurate illustration could have been used as in reality he advocates a vegetarian and non-vegetarian attitude of never mixing the two in the same pot let alone eating together in the same dining hall. The new world is in fact a curry but in the Homogenous Unit Principle methodology the potatoes and chunks of meat are not allowed to flavour one another as they are cooked in separate pots, kitchens and eaten by separate people.

C Wayne Zunkel gives a more refreshing view. The patterns may vary, but somehow caring Christians will put aside the old "melting pot" attitudes and come to see the beauty in each people, each culture. ….We need to see people in their richness and in the richness of their culture. We need also, at the same time, to see God’s dream that we are all his children. Until we see and understand both those truths, we have missed a major part of what the gospel declares. Wells points out that it is difficult to see how we can witness to the gospel’s truth that “in Christ all barriers have fallen – those of race, education, class etc…if they are carefully and deliberately preserving these barriers as part of their mission strategy.”

Stott further clarifies that if homogenous churches give a quicker growth rate than heterogeneous churches “we have to choose between apparent acquiescence in segregation for the sake of numerical church growth and the struggle for reconciliation at the expense of numerical church growth.” Rene C. Padilla clarifies however that “the essential nature of the church is that it is a reconciling community, one family made up of persons from all the families of the earth, intended to demonstrate simultaneously oneness in Christ and cultural diversity.” True community means that we are interdependent and have respect for one another from different ethnic backgrounds, age, cultures, and languages. Sparks asks the question, “If we cannot worship together then what can we do together?”  The barriers between ethnic groups have been abolished by Christ’s work. Gal. 3:8. It does not mean that there are no ethnic groups or we cease being who we are. It means the separation is abolished.

At the end of the chapter entitled "Without Crossing Barriers," McGavran includes a small section called, "An Urban Exception." He says, In true melting pots, the fact that the Church is a unifying society, different from any of the disappearing clans, classes, or castes, and seems likely to supersede them, draws men (sic) to the Christian faith....The Christian Church in the cities of the Roman Empire flourished in just such melting pots. She provided a supra-racial community or ecumenical fellowship to which city dwellers, emancipated from their provincial and tribal bonds, flocked in great numbers....In such cities (where there may be a true melting pot), some supratribal Churches are growing rapidly by conversion. Congregations which worship in a standard language and disregard class differences multiply furiously. In such cities the unifying brotherhood should be stressed, breaking with the old homogeneous unit should be a prerequisite for baptism, and worship in the standard language should become the rule.

So what are the solutions? Should we plant homogenous, heterogeneous, multi-ethnic or multi-congregational churches in the urban setting? It is not an easy question to answer and perhaps we need to include all of them.C. Peter Wagner seems to have been changing in his views and moving towards affirming the planting of multi-ethnic congregations. Chuck Van Engen writes, In 1981, in Church Growth and the Whole Gospel, Wagner offered the suggestion that in specific multi-ethnic situations, the church planter should consider a continuum from homogeneous to "conglomerate" (multi-ethnic or multi-cultural) relationships in a congregation. There, Wagner suggested that primary relationships are best developed along homogeneous lines, and secondary-level relationships might take place in conglomerate settings. Wagner than tied this in with his well-known "family, cell, congregation, celebration, festival" typology of congregational life, suggesting that at the level of "family" homogeneity is best affirmed–and at the level of "festival" there is a place for conglomerate relationships.

As David Shenk and Ervin Stutzman said in Creating Communities of the Kingdom, In a pluralistic society like North America or in most large cities around the world, it is desirable to plant both homogeneous people group churches and heterogeneous churches which are highly diverse in ethnic composition. Furthermore, it is never right to exclude any true believers from the church of their choice. No congregation is a true colony of heaven on earth if it denies membership to a person because of racial, ethnic, language, social, educational, or economic considerations. That fact is central to the New Testament understanding and expression of church. At the same time, it is right for people to worship in the language and idiom of their choice. It is for this reason that we believe it is both biblical and wise, especially in urban settings, to plant both heterogeneous and homogeneous congregations.   

Chuck Van Engen concludes, We should seek to avoid both cultural blindness nor cultural imposition. Thus, given a particular missional context, particular styles of leadership, specific cultural emphases, and concrete changes occurring over time, the models that best seem to foster a complementarity of universality and particularity should be the ones we encourage. In other words, we should seek to balance the "multi" aspects with the "ethnicity" factors. David Lundy further clarifies,Globalization as a phenomenon is not inconsistent with biblical values insofar as it is inclusive of diversity in the sense of freedom to make informed choices, and of pluralization in the sense of ethnicity. Therefore, uniformity (blurring of cultural distinctions) in the fashioning of multicultural churches is not a necessary expression of unity in the sense that we shall expect to see it displayed in heaven (do the peoples of the tribes, tongues, and nations lose their racial and cultural distinctives in glory just because they are unified by being in the immediate presence of the Lord and the Lamb? Not according to my reading of Rev. 7:9!). This understanding of God’s ultimate intentions therefore is that He is glorified “not [by] a diversity on the way to unity but a diversity on the way to unified diversity.

On the other hand, where a setting engenders multiculturalism, such as in a world-class city, a multicultural church is contextually sound and a foretaste of one aspect of our worship in heaven. We need both multicultural churches and Homogenous Unit Principle style churches. If the Church in Urban India is going to be a voice on the issue of reconciliation and the breaking down of caste it must not adopt a mentality of diversity on the way to unity. This has been the strategy of the Homogenous Unit Principle as seen above and has led to a church that is caste based. In a stinging article in the Indian Express the following was printed: The Puthiya Tamilagam founder K Krishnaswamy today unwittingly gave critics of Christianity canon fodder by calling for all out efforts by the heads of various denominations of Christianity to rid the religion of all “casteist divisions” that was at present plaguing Hinduism. You should eradicate caste-based discrimination in churches first,” he said as archbishops seated on the dais squirmed. He was the speaking at a seminar organized to oppose the anti-conversion law. He referred to terms such as ‘Dalit’ Christian, ‘Nadar’ Christian and so on being used to describe converts to drive home his point. Caste separation in our churches has caused us to lose our prophetic voice. As urbanization increases and caste continues to break down we as the church must show a way forward that reflects reconciliation, repentance, and not diversity on the way to unity but a diversity on the way to unified diversity.

In our strategies we must keep the tension points of universality and particularity in close proximity to one another so we strike a balance. Perhaps Wagner’s suggestion of keeping homogeneity at the family level and conglomerate relationships at the festival level is an urban reality and something that should be practiced. House churches could be planted across the city by denominations in homogenous groups and then gather together once a month or once in three months in a festival level where believers from all caste and ethnic groups gather together. Churches in the city could set aside joint services that go across denominational and caste lines to demonstrate unity. Whatever solutions are offered there must be serious reflection on how the church in India works together to be a witness of unity, reconciliation and contextualization to the uniqueness of each ethnic group it endeavours. t.o reach.

Youth With a Mission: City Ministries 2016

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City Ministries is a ministry of Youth With a Mission International

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