Rethinking Reaching the Unreached
With the introduction of Ralph Winter’s revolutionary “Unreached People Groups” address at Lausaune 1974, the missionary enterprise took a decidedly ethnic (as opposed to national) turn. The subsequent momentum of the unreached peoples strategies, agencies, research and theories could not have been predicted. All of this has provided both fuel and focus for the 20th century world mission of the church and continues to shape missions strategies into the 21st century. Unfortunately, reaching the unreached is not as easy as western missions strategies often make it appear.
For example, when working among the Shan-Dai of SE Asia, Surehope teams from GCTS/OMF International discovered that identifying which tribal peoples were Shan-Dai and which were not was not exact science (as it turns out, there are upwards of 18 shades of Shan). A diasporate people, the Shan have crossed ethnic and national boundaries, blending with other cultures in order to gain work permits and social acceptance. To rework a quote by Charles Spurgeon, we cannot untuck the shirttails of the Shan in order to preach the gospel to them, therefore we must proclaim the gospel to all peoples. Unreached people strategies have thier limits.
Globalization and the rise of the Creative class have also introduced limits or, at the very least, force us to rethink reaching the unreached. Various unreached peoples are flooding urban centers as two-thirds world immigrants and refugees seek economic stability and political asylum in the West. Many of these non-western peoples represent areas and peoples that are considered unreached. For instance, various Indian people groups enter the hi-tech industry, which is part of rhe creative class.
Richard Flordia, professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of The Rise of the Creative Class, has pointed out that the Creative class possesses the greatest economic capital at present, over and against the working and service classes, and is concentrated in cities. Moreover, cities house half of the world’s population, yet not all cities are created equal. Detroit, for example is driven by the working class, Las Vegas, the service class, and San Francisco, the creative class. The creative class is comprised of individuals that use knowledge to thier economic advantage to innovate and stimulate economic growth in the hi-tech, visual, aural, and educational fields.
Perhaps reaching the unreached should be refocused, at least in urban centers, to infiltrate the creative class. Moreover, the economic power of the creative class holds great potential for unleashing resources to spread the whole gospel to the whole world, to stimulate economically depressed areas and to raise the standard of living for the otherwise polarized classes. Several barriers, however, confront any focus on the creative class to reach the unreached. Strangely similar to the plight of the Shan, cultural mixing and stripping occurs in the creative class. Ethnic diversity, while affirmed among members of the Creative class, is globalized by the culture created by the Creative class. Flordia has pointed out several hallmarks of the “creative culture”–meritocracy, individuality, diversity–which are both good and bad. The point, however, is not to assess the value of thier values, but to realize that those unreached peoples working in the creative class have been enculturated into a rather different culture. Whatever our approach to reaching the unreached, the rise of the creative class must be taken into account.