Trickle Down Gospel?

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Government economic policy in the UK has led to renewed discussion of the term “Trickle Down Economics”.  The term comes from the belief supposedly held by some that if we simply permit the wealthy to get wealthier then that wealth will eventually “trickle down” to the less well off.

I say “supposedly” because I’m not sure there are many, if any, genuine adherents to the theory.  People often assume that Thatcherism was about “trickle down economics.” Whilst Margaret Thatcher certainly did believe that you wouldn’t make the poor richer by making the rich poorer, and whatever you think of her policies, she wasn’t actually a practitioner of “Trickle Down.”. When it came to actually seeing people benefit from wealth creation, she believed in giving the flow of prosperity a helping hand. That’s why her policies included cutting the basic rate of income tax, privatisation of state owned business with shares going to the public at significant discounts and giving people the right to own their own home (again at a discount). 

I’m saying this, not to determine whether Thatcherism was right or wrong. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions. Indeed, I’m sure you already have. Rather, I simply wanted to make the point that whatever she did, the one thing she definitely didn’t do was rely on Trickle Down Theory.  She was very much an interventionist.

This is important for us because at times, the same kind of theory can find its way into the church and into Gospel thinking.  Here are some ways in which I’ve observed it at work. First of all, I’ve heard it explicitly said that we should first of all prioritise church planting in wealthier areas so that the new Christians in those areas will be able to finance Gospel work in poorer areas.  In fact, in that same context, I remember a speaker saying that he couldn’t support a specific church planter because that planter didn’t have the right connections, wealthier churches around him wouldn’t partner with him. For whatever reason, he did not fit their criteria.

Secondly, and again explicitly, the specific strategy of the UK church over the past 100 years has been to reach Britain by first of all reaching the elite.  This was at its most overt and egregious through the Iwerne Camp approach of focusing on a few public schools in the belief that those schools would supply future leaders. Even though recent scandals have rocked the strategy, there are still plenty of people who remain okay with it in principle. Further, the approach continues to live on in a strategy that focuses on reaching students at University and planting churches for graduates.

Thirdly, the Church of England -primarily through its HTB wing has focused heavily no a strategy of creating “resource churches in city centres. The expectation is that these churches will eventually start to reach out to encourage replanting and revitalisation in other parts of cities.  Now, I know some great people involved in one of those churches and I’m delighted to see that church flourishing. However, I’m not convinced by the Resource Church strategy. In fact, what often happens is that the wider church in the area, including churches in urban priority areas ends up resourcing the resource church as people and giving are drawn away from those churches to the resource church. These city centre churches are often located away from communities as well.

Fourthly, we’ve been captivated by one model of church planting. This model requires a church to grow large enough to send out about 20-30 people to plant again.  Now, it’s a reasonable model. It does produce new churches. However, this model does require you to wait for a church to reach a specific size (I think realistically you need to be at about 150 plus for this approach to work).  I have no problem with the model but it isn’t the only one and we’ve neglected other models that allow us to plant swifter, simpler, smaller.

The problem with all of the above is that it assumes the good news will trickle out from those places that are Gospel rich -note these are often the materially richer places too. The reality is that we rarely if ever see the trickle down.  Furthermore, it ignores the point that the resources for Gospel mission to the unreached are already there.  There are plenty of churches full of people who have been well taught in God’s Word and should be able to lead. There are plenty of churches sitting on significant financial resources too.

Trickle Down Theory is pretty much discredited in in economics. It’s time to let go of it in the church. Practically, if you are leading a church and you have been considering the possibility of planting, then perhaps it is time to stop waiting for the right moment and when you’ll have enough people. What if you were to identify 2 or 3 people today who could move into a needy part of your city or to another town or city and start to plant? If you are a church leader and you have a healthy budget, why not prioritise part of your missions giving to resourcing a young church plant in a hard to reach place?

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