Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Diversity and the Homogeneous Unit Principle

The downside of diversity, as I noted yesterday, is that it reduces social capital and group trust. People are more likely to invest themselves deeply and give sacrificially to a group with which they share the deepest things in common.

Churches grow best and most explosively when they are based on cells of people who are like one another, who share the deepest levels of culture. Booming megachurches may be made of all kinds on Sunday morning, but they divide into cells of similar kinds on Wednesday night. This is called the homogeneous unit principle. It is the church-growth version of "birds of a feather flock together."

Churches are more like families than they are like workplaces. That is, they are more like primary groups than secondary groups. And the more a church works like a family, the stronger it will be and the more likely it is to grow.

Big denominations can be very diverse. Big congregations can be somewhat diverse. But strong church cells -- the ecclesiola in ecclesia, however constructed -- need to be similar in the most important ways.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree. Putnam’s results on the downside of diversity are not surprising.

However, isn't it interesting that social integration (or cohesion) and homophily are often assumed to be protective factors?

Let's look at the military. The MHAT-IV identified that the average Army suicide rate between 2003-2006 in Iraq is 16.4 soldiers per year per 100,000. The military is highly integrated. There are numerous examples of soldiers performing heroic actions in order to save their comrades. Oftentimes, such actions not only result in death, but also public recognition (e.g., medals). High social integration is rewarded, and suicide as a means to save comrades is the model of action par excellence (think social learning theory).

I think another example can be drawn from what we know of Islamic terrorist networks. Islamic communities rely upon neighborhood mosques for instruction and fellowship. Radicals also reply upon mosques to provide a sanctioned setting to instill a hatred for the hubris of the West coupled with a skewed presentation of the Qur’an (that actually advocates peace over fighting and is adamantly against suicide). Generations have learned that Western oppression is unbearable and suicide is a justifiable means to overcome it. High integration is rewarded, and suicide is reframed as a necessary evil.

In both examples, a lack of diversity undermines the strength of weak ties. While this might be beneficial in the examples above, it is problematic because it can lead to network destabilization. I am unclear how strengthening primary ties, like church cells or elements, will lead to growth.