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The homogenous church is declining and dying

| by Thom Rainer

When you are in your worship services next Sunday, look at the people around you. Do they all look like you? Do they all come from the same economic backgrounds? Are they are mostly about the same age?

If so, you are in a homogeneous church. As the old homogeneous unit principle implied, “We attract people who are like us.” 

That principle was a point of contention and debate for decades. The question is whether it is descriptive (a reality observed) or prescriptive (a strategy pursued)?

Trending downward

I contend that the healthy church in America in the future will be neither. Indeed, I contend that the homogenous church is declining and dying. A vision that fails to extend beyond “just like us” is doomed.

Why? Here are five key reasons.

1. We live in a heterogeneous culture. I grew up in the racist world of the Deep South. We whites had our own churches, places of business, and country clubs. No one else was allowed. If you went to the doctor, there were separate waiting rooms for whites and African Americans (“Coloreds”). It was abysmal. It was sickening. 

I know. Racism has not disappeared, as last year’s protests in Charlottesville, Virginia show. Still, I am grateful that my children and grandchildren don’t even know why a person of a different color should not be their friend or colleague. While the culture has changed, not all churches have. Those that cling to the past will die.

2. Gen Z will not have a majority racial or ethnic group. Those born since 2001 are growing up in a generation that has no majority group. For the first time in American history, whites will be a minority with other minority groups. That is the real world. Our churches need to reflect that real world.

3. Millennials tend to avoid homogeneous churches. The generation born between 1980 and 2000 sees homogenous churches as aberrations. It does not reflect the reality of the world in which they live. They may visit a homogeneous church, but it’s likely they will not return.

4. Cultural Christianity is dying. “Cultural Christians” is an oxymoron. We use that term to refer to unregenerate people who had some level of participation in a congregation because it was culturally acceptable—good for business and politics. 

That world is almost gone. Cultural Christians could come to our segregated churches with no qualms, because they only attended to get business connections, to get votes, or just to be accepted as a member of good standing in the community. Though that still occasionally happens, by and large, that world no longer exists.

5. Homogeneity is a form of segregation. It is not gospel-centric. This issue is the essence of the matter. When we define our churches by skin color, socioeconomic class, or any other divider, we are going counter to the gospel.

Knowing the community

Where should we begin to move our churches to reflect the centrality of the gospel? A first step is to know your community. Do the research to find out who is really in the community around your church. 

Whatever path you take, get to know who is really in your community. That information will let you know if there is a divide between those who attend your church and those who live around you.

As your church develops its vision for the future, do so with this thought in the forefront of your consciousness: Homogeneous churches are dying. They do not reflect the gospel. It is my prayer that our churches will soon reflect this reality when we gather before the Lamb of God:

We must work to achieve John’s powerful vision from Revelation: “After this I looked and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10, CSB).

Photo source: istock 

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of 25 books, including his latest release from B&H Publishing Group: Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change in the Church. His 2013 book, I Am a Church Member, has sold more than one million copies.

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