Trickling down...

The implicit strategy for gospel growth in the UK has been said to resemble "trickle-down" theory in the past 50 years. It refers to an evangelistic focus on those with influence, on the understanding that as they come to Christ, they influence a large number of others and ultimately the culture changes.

There's been challenge, with Global Connections publishing this piece in 2012 and more recent critique coming from those with a passion to reach working class (ie perceived non-influential) areas of the UK (see here and here).

Supply side economics

Trickle-down economic theory (supply side economics) is somewhat different to a trickle-down socio-communicative perspective of gospel propagation. An obvious point perhaps, but it seems to have been crowbarred into analogies which are not always fully relevant to the debate. Wealth 'trickling down' is not analogous in mechanism, method or cause with the gospel 'trickling down'.

The supply-side economic theory relies on self-interest - free market 101, Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. It assumes that people will act in a certain way to further their interests (returns), and that these mechanisms will directly or indirectly benefit others. Several papers have been written on the world's dramatic reduction of extreme (absolute) poverty, and specifically capitalism's input creating sustainable long-term employment - most obviously in south and east Asia. Ultimately, this relies to some extent on trickle-down supply-side effect (but not uniquely).

For example, as the Indian middle class burgeons, the level of absolute poverty has reduced substantially (and not through direct government intervention through social policies) according to the World Bank. Cause and effect is of course very hard to prove though.

[it's also worth noting that Reaganomics relies heavily on supply-side theory, but Thatcher was never in the same space, since many of the policies focused on "trickle-up" - for example, empowering the middle class and ensuring working class ownership]

The problem with the theory is that self-interest does not always work itself out into value-creating enterprise. Instead, wealth is hoarded, in part because people's capacity or time is limited, but also due to selfish greed and an assumption of risk. And so although absolute poverty does decrease as the economy grows, the relative income disparity also tends to grow.

In summary, it has been more comfortable to shuffle newfound gains to offshore accounts and personal gains, rather than put them to work to the overall benefit of society.

Knock-on impacts...?

And this is where limited parallels can be drawn with the evangelical scene. The assumption was that influencing the influencers would mean that they put in place strategic initiatives across the UK meaning many more came to Christ. Some issues and thoughts:

  1. Gospel "wealth" was hoarded, primarily due to a comfort in circumstance. Mono-cultural initiatives were worked out, as people were geographically "locked in" through jobs, schooling, home situation or perceived risk.
  2. The seductiveness of influence continues. Even if the theory brought forth some fruit, it should come with a huge health warning: the human heart desires recognition and is prideful. We can blind ourselves to that remarkably effectively.
  3. God uses the small and despised things of this world, equally or more so than He uses the greatest things. In fact, He delights to use methods which bring Him glory, not us!
  4. There is an overlap with dominionist thinking; that we are called to build God's Kingdom here on earth, transforming culture and society, establishing a theocracy. To do this, logically one should target key influencers in society. Again, this eschatology is seductive. It would benefit from being transparently scrutinised through Scripture and strong teaching in our churches. Some say it's a secondary/tertiary issue. Whilst agreeing that it is not the primary theological point, it appears to determine purpose and focus amongst networks, and therefore is important to be clear on.

So why discuss this on MtB's blog?

You may be asking what all this has to do with Mission through Business. We play a very small role in the overall working out of God's purposes, focused on those who cross barriers (cultures, ethnicities, classes etc) to share Christ and serve others. Why comment on a UK-wide strategic focus?

As with any initiative, we have a set of strategic choices. We could decide to focus on those in society who are influencers, wealthy, have high social media followers, or strong connections. The strategy becomes indeterminate from a secular focus on gathering the most people, the strongest voices. The KPIs and outcomes become numerical, quantity driven.

To a point, we recognise that we want to do that, because we want lots of business and trades people to recognise the possibility for cross-cultural mission in their lives, and lots of churches to be discipling business people in their midst into a gospel-centred set of life decisions. The more who hear, the more opportunity there may be for someone to respond, through prayer, investing, visiting or being sent by their church long-term.

But here's the rub.

  • The determinant of the Christian business/trades person responding to an opportunity to serve is not "chance" or probability, but the Spirit's work and our Father's purposes. As long as MtB (and partners) talk to the right people, we are effective. The multiplication factor is not how many people we talk to, or connect to, but whether we are in line with the Lord of the Harvest as he sends workers, praying to Him and truly seeking His will.
  • The gospel ability of the person or team crossing barriers is not directly linked to their level of influence, formal education or wealth. Whilst the ability to "give an answer for the hope within you" (1 Peter 3:15) is helped by understanding Scripture, apologetics, and cultural application, this does not have to be degree level.

So we are intentional about ensuring business and trades people from all walks of life are presented with opportunities, stories, pathways and connections which help them think and act to cross barriers with the gospel. We need training and coaching for varying levels of educational background, as well as pointing people to excellent learning which enables understanding of multi-cultural (incl multi-class) issues.

Please challenge us on this: ask what we are doing to catalyse involvement across all classes and ethnicities, helping being to be disciples who make disciples across boundaries. We aim to value each conversation according to heart attitudes, not societal position.

We also recognise the Spirit's role in illuminating our steps. We want to be praying and seeking our Father's will on next steps, guiding us to talk to the right people, not just more people. Please join us in praying for this guidance.