Back in my seminary days I participated in a church planting workshop. The one lesson that I can still recall from that class is the “homogenous unit principle.” In short this principle states that starting a new church works best if you gather people together who look the same, believe the same, and live at the same economic level. When you put different types of people together it creates the possibility of being uncomfortable. Apparently churches don’t grow if folks are uncomfortable.
In the last couple of days I have been involved in two different conversations about this issue.
The first conversation was with the pastoral staff of my home church. We were talking about what it means to become multi-cultural. Our church has made significant strides in achieving this goal, but in the end we concluded that it is much easier to talk about being multi-cultural than to actually be multi-cultural.
The second conversation took place at my semi-regular Thursday breakfast meeting. We were having an animated discussion about the state of the Mennonite church when one person made the following comment: “I do not think that Mennonites will ever get used to having Non-Mennonites in the church.”
This year I have participated in an urban listening tour for Mennonite Church USA. One of the consistent topics of discussion has centered on diversity. No one has ever suggested that the church become less diverse. But tension quickly emerges when we start talking about our differences, especially when the differences appear to cross a theological line.
How different can we be from each other and still worship together or claim the same faith? Is the church, regardless of denomination, big enough to hold the diversity? Does difference demand that we separate from each other? Is the homogeneous unit principle the only way forward?
It is my hope and prayer that we can find ways to come together. I do not want the homogeneous unit principle to win.