Monoculture is a term used in agriculture to describe the planting of a single crop in a field. It is also used in a narrower sense to describe the widespread planting of a single cultivar. This is the sense which I will refer to.
This kind of monoculture results when a cultivar is developed which combines high yield potential with resistance to current insect and disease threats. The danger is that some new threat may come along to which this cultivar has no resistance, resulting in widespread crop failures.
Such was the cause of the Irish Potato Famine of 1845 – 1852. One third of the Irish population had become dependent on potatoes for year round sustenance, and only one variety of potato was grown, the Irish Lumper. When the potato blight appeared in Ireland and devastated the crop at least one million people died. Another million emigrated to North America.
Gros Michel was the dominant banana variety until many large plantations were devastated around 1950 by a fungal disease. The bananas we eat today are of the Cavendish cultivar, but this too is threatened by disease and may soon disappear from our supermarkets.
At one time 90% of the corn grown in the USA was from one type of hybrid. Almost 50 years ago this crop suffered reduced yields due to leaf blight.
Nevertheless, about 50 years ago a new teaching appeared in evangelical Christianity that promoted monoculture as a marvellous new tool for church growth. The idea was to target groups of people who had a natural affinity and endeavour to plant a congregation among these people. The affinity could be based on ethnic origin, the means of earning their livelihood, or economic status. Such people would understand each others jargon, aspirations and lifestyles., thus eliminating many barriers to unity within a congregation.
This was essentially adapting market research techniques to evangelism. It wasn’t a good match and hasn’t turned out all that well. Yet many churches do exist that fit those criteria. Are they healthy churches?
I fear that the same dangers exist for monoculture churches as for monoculture agricultural crops. There is a danger that fellowship may become based more on common ethno-cultural traits than on a deep and meaningful relationship with the Saviour. Some teaching may come along that seems particularly appealing and many may not have the Christian foundation to resist it.
Another thing that happens in churches that have not had a recent addition of members from other backgrounds is that they begin to speak in a language that is not accessible to outsiders. They develop slogans and code words that are commonly understood by those inside. Yet they may quite easily forget how to explain what these words mean to others who are not insiders. Thus they lose the ability to relate in an evangelical way with their neighbours and eventually conclude that their neighbours are just not interested.
This in turn is apt to lead to a stagnation of spiritual life and an inability to share their faith in an inspiring and meaningful way to their own children.
I am convinced that it is good and healthy for Christians to regularly interact with people who will challenge them on the reality of their faith and move them to seek ways to explain their faith in words that will be understood by others.