mission shaped church
To state the obvious, the wider the cultural gap being crossed, the greater
will be the likely difference between the `new' and the sending church. The
wider the cultural gap to be crossed, the riskier the venture and the more
complex is the mental, emotional and ecclesiastical leap that the mission
team has to make. As the UK population becomes increasingly post
Christian, so the cultural gap to be crossed in any planting venture will
This is the cultural context within which the Church in England
now exists, such that missionary cross cultural training should be an
inherent part of ministerial theological education.
important issue: can we justify planting a church for only one
sort of people?
The Homogeneous Unit Principle (HUP) is one of the most contentious
issues that arise in connection with church planting. The principle was
conceived and popularized by the missionary thinker and planter Donald
McGavran in his 1955 book Bridges of God.
The principle states that: `People like to become Christians without crossing
racial/linguistic/class/cultural barriers.' In other words, they prefer to remain
who they are culturally while changing to being Christian. Culturally they
remain the same, and tend to gather with others from the same culture
who share their faith. It is this sameness that marks the group as
McGavran devised his Homogeneous Unit Principle from observation,
principally in India. There the gospel spread across whole people groups
(such as the conversion of whole villages) who were evangelized by those
from that community. In one sense, he simply said `this is how the gospel
travels most easily'. However, for nearly 50 years, controversy has followed
his conclusion. Some are strongly critical of HUP. They argue that the New
Testament sees Jesus as reconciler, breaking down barriers between God
and human beings, and between human person and human person.
So Paul writes to the Galatians: `There is no longer Jew or Greek, there
is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.'
One reply to this concern is to affirm the diversity of creation. God is creator
of all, and is also creator of specific and diverse cultures. Whilst elements
of all cultures are damaged by the Fall, like the rest of creation, culture is
part of God's handiwork.
A second strand is to look at the Incarnation, challenging the church
planter to follow Jesus' example of choosing a specific culture and time
into which to be born. The incarnation principle points to the planting of
churches that are culture specific for those being reached.