Though I may grow weary of it, I am glad that we regularly ask what Christian community should look like. How is it that we, the called out church of Jesus Christ, should live? Furthermore, how is that impacted, if at all, by the cultural context in which we currently exist? As I am informed by the Word, Christian authors/thinkers and my own hermeneutic of culture, I of course have my own opinions on this. Maybe we can share those another day. At this point I’d simply like to propose a question which is related to this conversation and impacts how generations live together in the church.
Recently I’ve become curious about how homogeneity in social groupings might be both a hindrance and possibly even a tool to community building.
Homogeneity: the quality or state of being homogeneous; of the same or a similar kind or nature.
-Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Like it or not; Birds of a feather do flock together and this sociological dynamic is always going to be a factor in how we live together as the church. But how many potential categories of homogoneity/variation can exist in a given social environment? I’m willing to offer the following six categories:
I recognize that some of these overlap quite heavily and that there may even be more. Still, for our purposes here I’m sticking with these six. Then I’m asking, to what degree does a community need homogeneity in any of these categories to function? What benefits would be afforded to community leaders if there were homogeneity in any percentage of these? What benefit does diversity offer?
There is of course a tension in God’s Kingdom that we all live with. Many of our communities are homogeneous in most of these categories and yet we know that the Kindom is much larger. At least I hope we know. We are often entrenched in the ethnocentric circles which we’ve drawn around ourselves all the while knowing how the Church can and should be so much more diverse.
I wonder if there’s a magic number of these categories that must be homogeneous to allow for real community to take place. Admittedly I’m playing this game with only human rules, acknowledging fully that the Father’s Kingdom can break through these categories and into our communities; homogeneity or not. Still, if playing with this simply from a sociological perspective, would two homogeneous categories provide enough community to allow for the other four to remain diverse? I’m sure someone out there has looked into this!
It seems to me that we have to deal with the diversity that is handed to us and/or is present in the larger social context where our churches exist. For some churches, this means ethnic diversity, for many others it will most certainly include economic diversity. Still, the diversity of age should exist in every one of our congregations; but sometimes doesn’t. So as a pastor who cares deeply about the generational connections, what level of homogeneity is necessary (if any, remember this is still a question!) to make it easier for the church to step across the generational divide?
My only real thought on this is how culture may potentially be the strongest factor and most important indicator. In social settings, we look for what we have in common; something that we mutually understand and can therefore share or discuss. Cultural barriers can be and most likely are key factor in differences of age, nationality, ethnicity and economics. If we as churches create common culture, one that is shared, then maybe these other factors become easier to bridge, possibly making homogeneity less of an issue.