Do movements spread from the top or from the bottom?
As a part of my PhD research I have been studying the phenomenon of how movements take root and spread. Lately, I have been challenged by James D. Hunter's book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.
For a review of Hunter's book, this Christianity Today review is excellent. There has been some excellent "back and forth" between some authors. Both Andy Crouch and Chuck Colson responded (they get a rather strong critique in Hunter's book).
The premise of much Christian writing and thinking has been that if you change the hearts and souls of a people, their culture will change. Hunter disputes this premise. He notes that if it were true, American culture would be far more Christian, as the majority of people in the US claim to Christians (yes, he does deal with the argument of people saying they are Christian but not acting like it).
He notes that subgroups within cultures often have more sway than the majority group. He cites Jews and homosexuals as subgroups that have far greater cultural influence in America than Christianity does. He makes the argument that one must capture the hearts and minds of the elites in order to have real and lasting impact.
In the end, he takes the "easy way" and combines both the "top down" and "bottom up" approach into what he called "Faithful Presence." It is a focus on both institutional and personal renewal.
This has great implications for those seeking to foster Christian movements globally, if true.
As I have read this book one movement has stood out to me that is not a good fit for his model. The church in China has not been a movement of either elites or of institutional reform. From the perspective of this outsider at least, the growth of Chinese Christianity has happened in an almost completely grassroots fashion.
I am grappling with these ideas. The Pioneers' missionary force, at over 2,000 strong, is mostly aimed at the grassroots approach. Should we press on in this mode?