Homogeneous Community vs. Gospel Community

One of the undercurrent movements of evangelical renewal in local churches has been the rise of missional communities.  These small communities are distinct from your typical home groups or small-groups because what unites them and defines them is a common mission.  I resonate with this kind of missiologically-informed structuring of the ekklesia scattered as those who have been sent.

Here at Grace, we have been transitioning to similar communities to have a broader and deeper impact in Southwest Florida.  Part of the developmental process has been to listen and learn from other churches who have embraced some form of small groups to foster community, whether it was life-on-life discipleship or a more incarnational lifestyle in engaging the community at large.

One of the things that has confused me about some of the philosophy behind leading models is how they are formed or constituted.  There are various filters that one can use to encourage members to participate in these groups.  What seems to be the leading filter has been for members to choose the groups according to what they have most in common (e.g, affinity-based).  So there would be the young married groups, elderly groups, ladies groups, mens groups, college groups, and so on.  These groups are shaped to bring the most homogeneity and thereby promise to be more effective and fruitful.

What I find troubling about this filter/model is twofold:

First, there is an assumption that what believers will have most in common is something rather superficial (age, stage in life, etc.).  The classifications of homogeneity are basically no different than how the world seeks to divide us. Second, this filter has an orientation that is inherently consumer-driven.  I want to be in community with people who are most like me.  I want my community to be clean, cool, efficient, not messy, stretching, and challenging.

But what is it that believers have most in common?  It is the gospel!  And what does the gospel do in the church?  Breaks down the barriers and forms a counter-cultural community, a new humanity, where genuine unity is displayed in the midst of radical diversity.  A gospel-centered church is one that does not substitute the gospel as the greatest common denominator among believers.  And when the gospel shapes the church, it will define the communities and operate as the filter for their constitution. True fellowship among believers comes when shared life is sharing the gospel to one another, and the necessary fuel for the mission comes from the gospel who takes consumers of God’s Word and enables them to be doers of God’s Word.

Gospel communities, then are constituted with deep unity and radical diversity in the following ways:

  1. Diversity in spiritual maturity (fathers, young men, and children as seen in 1 John 2:12-14 all together)
  2. Diversity in stages of life (elderly with families with young professional with single mom etc.)
  3. Diversity in race and ethnicity (black, Hispanic, white, Asian, etc.)
  4. Diversity in socio-economic status (wealthy, poor, blue-collar)
  5. Diversity in political views (Republican, Democrat, Independent)

Why is this so crucial?  By being around people who are not like us, we are reminded that Jesus came to a people completely not like Himself.  He came to dwell among us, to serve us by giving His life, and accomplished His mission and then entrusted it to His followers to do as He had done.  When we prefer a low-maintenance, spiritual “clean” and mature group of believers to fellowship with, we are acting contrary to the gospel.  It does not put it on display.  We put the world’s categories on display.  The clean and supposedly low-maintenance and knowledgeable people (the religious folk) Jesus avoided, but instead He got messy with the tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, and demon-possessed and formed a community that had been transformed by the gospel of the kingdom.

So when an elderly white woman is praying over a black young professional who is baby-sitting for a Hispanic family with six kids, what does this say to a non-Christian when they first encounter it?  When the poor have equal standing with the rich, when the new believer struggling with his new identity in Christ and the sins of the past and is encouraged and established rather than looked down upon and judged, when the home-schooling family shares a meal together with the public-schooling family, when things like this are being done in community, what is on display?  The gospel which has transformed their lives, informed their new identity, and formed a new humanity where walls of division have been broken down.

This is so much harder than homogeneous groups.  It is so much messier and challenging.  But is so much more glorious and gospel-honoring.  It is not efficient, so pragmatism will not be it’s best advocate.  It does not have as its reference point your personal needs, so the spiritual consumer will not like it.  But those driven by the gospel and genuinely want to see it lived out in their lives will love it.  Jesus loved, served, and gave.  His focus the Father first, others second, and Himself last.  And the attitude and actions of Jesus are manifested in a community where His reign and rule brings a new order in a new community when the kingdom has been established in their hearts.

We will commend Christ to sinners and put the gospel on display when we, as repenters and believers, show the change He has brought in our lives in a corporate witness of renewed communities conformed to the kingdom ethic rather than the schemes of this world.  God’s designs put us in a position where God’s power to transform and God’s love to give up our lives must be operative for us to be God’s people in this world.  Gospel iron that sharpens, stretches, and shapes one another is what we need, not more people just like ourselves to make us feel comfortable and resistant to change.  When deep unity is formed by the gospel, the radical diversity therein will be like facets of a diamond that display the brilliance of God’s glory in the redemptive work of His Son and the restoration work He’s begun.

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11 Comments on “Homogeneous Community vs. Gospel Community”

  1. Dave Miller Says:

    I’ve been blogging quite a while and read a lot of posts. This is one of the best I have ever read. Paul talked about breaking down the wall between Jew and Gentile to form one new gospel People. We have strategies today designed to build churches united on human terms instead of by the gospel.

    Well done. Well-written. I hope many read this.

  2. Chris Bowers Says:

    Timmy,

    Interesting thoughts on homogeneous community vs. Gospel community. My church, Hill Country Bible Church UT, is a missional church looking to impact The University of Texas. One of the primary ways we do this is through what we call “missional communities.” These are done how you describe the homogeneous communities. Our church however is not a homogeneous community (other than most people being college age, but we’re constantly trying to grow that). I look at our ability to connect with people off of a common interest or affinity and as they are introduced to Jesus and become curious and visit our church, then they are seeing the Gospel lived out among varying people. Additionally, are missional communities are often only a few believers who are interacting with a much larger group.

    This was kind of a disjunctive email, but my point is that I think both can exist. Our “homogeneous” missional communities are the first interaction point between the unbeliever and our Gospel missional church.


    • Chris,

      I see your point. If all you have, for instance, is college students in your community, then obviously you will have inevitable homogeneity. Among the aspects of gospel community is not the denial or diminishing of interests or affinities of each member of the community. Indeed, those connecting points with the lost world are important, especially in third places. If each person in the gospel community had different interest and affinities and built a relationship with unbelievers through those avenues, then that gospel community will be able to reach people of various types. On the other hand, if everyone in the community had identical interests or affinity, then the group will reach people just like them.

      What I think you are arguing for is variety/diversity in the church gathered and homogeneity/affinity in the church scattered in the missional communities. But why can’t it be variety/diversity in missional communities where the common denominator is the gospel and each member of the missional community leveraging their individual affinities to bless the community? Does that make sense?

  3. Chris Bowers Says:

    I think I understand what you are saying. I’ll use the missional community I am a part of as an example for why I don’t necessarily think variety is a good thing. My missional community reaches out to those that play volleyball at the university gym. We need to have people that enjoy the game of volleyball to reach out to those people that are there at the gym to play the game. In fact, being good at the game is a benefit because it opens a platform; however, we aren’t going to say no to someone that wants to join us that isn’t an A player. But if you don’t enjoy the game of volleyball, then you will be ineffective and a burden to the group. Once the unbeliever has a chance to interact with us and enjoys being around us their is a building of relationship. This eventually (ideally) leads to them engaging the gathered church (Gospel community).

    • Dave Miller Says:

      Perhaps the issue should not be outreach, but church fellowship. If there is a homogeneous community near our church, perhaps we focus a ministry toward them. But if we allow that homogeneous community to continue as a distinct subset within the church, we are basing church unity on something other than the gospel.

      Paul said he would become all things to all men to win some. Fine. We cannot expect the lost to live out the meaning of the gospel. But when we have reached folks, we need to intentionally become focused less on our human traits that unify (or divide) and more on the gospel which unites and motivates all Christians.


    • Chris,

      I see what you are saying. Actually, there was a time where I used beach volleyball to do just what you mentioned. I took some high school guys with me to the beach, gathered folks to join in, played a couple of games with them, gave free bottles of water, and then told them about Jesus. Having interested and moderately good players did help out.

      I’m still unconvinced, however, that volleyball is a greater common denominator than the gospel. Functionally, it is perhaps more effective and will obtain more immediate results. The HUP (homogeneous unit principle) is very popular in church growth circles. While I think that mission can spring from a hobby-based homogeneity, I think it is better served from a gospel-driven position, because in our weaknesses, God’s grace is on display.

      In other words, when are to consider our calling, as in 1 Cor. 1:26-31, the focus is on what we are NOT as compared to what we are. A great baseball player may not be as effective as reaching baseball players than an average baseball player in whose weaknesses the grace of God is on display. In other words, does human performance commend Christ more than gospel-driven dependence?


  4. […] I want to dedicate this post to the believer(s) who think they need to be around other believers who are just like them (in reference to age, stage in life, etc.) in order to ‘feel’ connected to the body.  Please click here. […]

  5. D.L. Kane Says:

    Although I have not commented in quite awhile, I have kept up with your blog over the past year. This post was excellent! And a message that many need to hear and seriously consider. So many local churches are creating social “cliques” and “clubs” where there is little spiritual growth and edification occurring among the saints.

    D.L. Kane


  6. […] of God’s glory in the redemptive work of His Son and the restoration work He’s begun. Click here for complete article. Categories: Community Groups, Discipleship, Missional Tags: […]

  7. dmachine Says:

    This is a fantastic post. While I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, do you think “every church must do it this way?” or is there room for different churches to operate in different ways. I think our western context may yield more opportunity to produce such ministries than say a rural church in Thailand, but even in the west, would God be unable to use a homogeneous community to minister to those that are similar to the community (as the volleyball example above).

    As an example, you said in the post: “By being around people who are not like us, we are reminded that Jesus came to a people completely not like Himself.”

    But, while he came to human beings, who are of course, completely unlike Himself, would it not also be fair to say that he did minister very much within his own context, which was, first century Jews? Sure, he conflicted with the religious elite but would not a carpenter have shared those conflicts as well?

    I think Jesus ministered amazingly to people who were very much like Him (in some ways) as well as powerfully ministering to those that are completely unlike Him.

    I fully agree with your comment that: “I think it is better served from a gospel-driven position, because in our weaknesses, God’s grace is on display.”

    but with regards to: “A great baseball player may not be as effective a[t] reaching baseball players than an average baseball player in whose weaknesses the grace of God is on display.”

    could it not be argued that a great baseball player would have a farther and wider reach than an average baseball player? The message of the great baseball player and the average baseball player must, of course, be the same: the Gospel. But, would not the admission of weakness of a great baseball player further display the power of the Gospel than the same admission from the local average joe baseball player?

    Just some thoughts from reflecting upon yours. Thanks for sharing them, and looking forward to reading more of them.


  8. […] You can read the rest here. […]


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