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Episode 53: Michael Shepherd

Though it might sound like a character out of a Looney Toons movie, “Saddleback Sam” was a actually fictional “character” developed by Saddleback Church and their pastor Rick Warren as a sort of archetypal character, representing the type of person they were trying to reach at that booming, mega-church in Orange County, CA.

Decked out in pleated pants, a button-up shirt, and holding a cell-phone in one hand and a pager in the other, Saddleback Sam truly is the epitome of the white, upper-middle class, middle-aged men basically overrunning the communities surrounding Saddleback Church. Seeing these huge demographic shifts, Warren essentially “anthropomorphized” the demographics so as to inspire his church to better reach his community.

While in 2021, we might retract in horror at such a thought (and perhaps the sight of a white guy in pleated khakis), in the go-go days of church growth in mid-90’s, Warren was setting a trend and developing a model (sort of, not really) for church planters all across the country.

Warren’s idea was based off the work of Don McGavran a missionary with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who while working in India, realized that people were more likely to convert to Christianity when they shared similar demographics. From this observation, McGavran developed the “Homogenous Unit Principle.

In this latest episode of the podcast, Michael Shepherd explains the “homogenous unit principle,” talks about this guy named Don McGavran, and shares his thoughts on why the so-called “Church-growth” movement has likely run out of gas and needs to be re-examined completely.

Michael is an adjunct prof of intercultural studies and political science at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA. He did his graduate studies in community development and nonprofit management at Hope and then intercultural studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. His background is in nonprofit management and community organizing, but now he’s a stay-at-home dad which gives him some time to focus on his research and writing about church and culture.

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