Church planting for cultural influence

Yesterday I asked whether church planting in the middle of cities made any sense. Today I want to reflect on where in the UK should you plant a church if you want to influence the cultural, intellectual, political life of the nation.

Now I’m not entirely sure that the project of the church should be seek out to influence these areas, I think it is a by-product of well discipled disciples but that’s another post. So let’s assume that you did want to influence in all the above areas, where should you plant a church?

On my list, London comes third and a distant third at that. If you want to shape the influencers then really you need to be in Oxford and Cambridge and heavily investing in student ministry. For the record I didn’t get anywhere close to being able to go to Oxbridge, I mostly blame this on not being clever.

The facts seem to be inescapable, despite only having 1.5% of the British student population this 1.5% has a disproportionate effect on British national life.

Since 1945 86% of British Prime Ministers were educated at Oxbridge. In 2012 65% of the Cabinet were educated at Oxbridge. In 2004 81% of High Court Judges and Law Lords were educated at Oxbridge (plus 80% of leading barristers and 50% of solicitors at our biggest law firms).

What about the media and business? 56% of journalists went to Oxbridge and even in business 39% of FTSE 100 CEOs went to Oxbridge.

We might want to change that, but this is the current reality. So just being in Oxford or Cambridge isn’t enough but instead strategically investing in reaching students.

Of course you could go further back and see where the majority of Oxbridge students come from and focus on Eton or Harrow or some other fee paying public school, only to discover as a result that we’re not exactly going into the highways and byways. So Oxbridge looks to be a safe bet for some time to come and of course there are lots of excellent churches in both those cities.

It’s here, though, at the formation of strategy that the goal of cultural influence looks slightly suspect. Even if Paul did target cities and even if some early converts came from the elite the church was much more diverse than that. Paul put as much effort into converting slaves as slave owners, servants as much as masters. Seeking top down influence has never been the best of strategies historically for Christianity. Ground up on the other hand, well that’s a different story.


4 thoughts on “Church planting for cultural influence”

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    But surely you need to plant churches also in places which are not already well supplied, indeed even overgrown, with them? There are already plenty of churches, good and bad, in Oxford and Cambridge, and plenty of other Christian ministries seeking to influence university students and staff. But there are many other places, even university towns, seriously lacking good churches. Perhaps they are better places to plant.

    As for Prime Ministers since 1945, were 86% really Oxbridge educated? Attlee yes, Churchill no, Eden yes, Macmillan yes, Home yes, Wilson yes, Heath yes, Callaghan no, Thatcher yes, Major no, Blair yes, Brown no, Cameron yes – that’s 9 out of 13 or 69%. Your statistic would have been valid up to April 1976 but not since then. In fact 9 of the 13 went to Oxford, and only Brown attended any other university.

    1. Phil Whittall says:

      Hi Peter, I’m not actually suggesting we should plant only in Oxford & Cambridge. I’m saying if our clear and highest goal was influencing UK national life there are only two really strategic places to plant. However as I hint at in the last two paragraphs that’s not  a goal I share.
      As for the PM stats, I freely borrowed them and didn’t check their accuracy and took it at face value. You may be right, but 69% is still quite high! See more here 

  2. Mark Heath says:

    I agree that the idea that it is “cities” that shape culture is highly suspect. I live in the city of Southampton, which is a great place to live, but in all honesty we make little to no impact on the UK culture (unless you count being at the forefront of oceanography as impacting the culture). Previously I lived in Luton, of similar size, but only a “town” in UK parlance. The dominant culture there is Muslim if anything.

    You make an excellent closing point. Any cultural transformation we can affect is likely to be bottom up, rather than top down.

  3. Tejas says:

    Amen to your point on starting from the ground up! I mean, even God worked that way in having the angels appear to shepherds first before anyone else. Good post.

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