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Rethinking Reaching the Unreached

June 8, 2006

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.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. sTeve permalink
    June 9, 2006 12:14 pm

    This is world class thinking for the glocally minded. Keep up the good work.

  2. June 10, 2006 7:51 pm

    What you’re getting into is the messy local complexities of reaching the unreached – not negating the strategy itself. These realities will face us all. Every worker within a UPG will have to deal with these issues sooner or later. Good thinking!

  3. June 10, 2006 8:03 pm

    yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes!! You’ve articulated what many of us, especially those who serve in urban city centers have been thinking and feeling. A few more questions I would pose are: What would Paul think about our UPG strategies in light of his strategies to reach people? How do they compare/contrast? What can we learn from Paul’s strategy to reach people that the UPG falls short in doing? How did Paul view and utilize urban centers as springboards for outreach?

    I do not believe in the excusivity of the UPG strategy as the only strategy we should employ. Thank God for the marketing and awareness it has driven, but I think we need to be more multi-faceted and more nuanced about our approach(es) to reaching people. Spain is a great example of the failure of the UPG strategy to infiltrate and bring about lasting change (shalom) in their cities and communities. But there are other, more valid (depending on the context) approaches that we should not only entertain, but encourage and employ. Spain is just one of many post-Christendom societies that are begging for something other than a UPG stategy.

  4. jordan permalink
    June 13, 2006 5:01 pm

    I would definately have to agree. I come with much less wisdom and knowledge to this discussion, but after studying missions through perspectives, and seeing strategies to reach UPG’s in Egypt and in Morocco, i think there needs to be some refocus or at least consideration of the urban centers.

    I have seen some organizations become too narrowly focused, in my opinion, where they will only reach out or do ministry to a certain “people group” while living in an urban center or a major city. For example,in Morocco, there are many Berber people living in the major cities, who work in the stores, or make art, or work in business, (some part of the “creative class”)but they don’t speak the Berber language, or dress like a berber, and have adopted the Arab culture. In Morocco there are mission organizations that are solely focused on reaching the Berber people, but they overlook these people who work in the city. There needs to not only be “unreached people group” focused missions, but “unreached city” missions. We have placed such an importance on people groups that we will overlook completely lost and perishing cities or classes of people because they aren’t comprised of what we understand to be UPG’s.

    Another example. In Cairo there are many organizations focused on the Bedouin people group, who have no known believers in Egypt. But they won’t witness, build relationships, or teach english to Arabs because that is not in their job description. Cairo has a huge creative class, with huge economic potential, that is greatly overlooked. I think there are many ways that mission strategy needs to be refocsed or at least consider parts of the world that have little contact with the gospel or no living, active, growing, self-supporting body of Christ.

    good news though, Christ will build His Church!
    some of my thoughts.
    hope this makes sense.

  5. June 13, 2006 5:13 pm

    Great comments by all. Stew has raised some important, practical questions that deserve further reflection. Many missiologists have, of course, written on Paul’s strategy being church-driven, as opposed to people-group driven, with the focus being people (Newbigin, Hesselgrave, Roland Allen, etc).

    Jordan strengthens our case for rethinking reaching the unreached with his missions experience and reflection.

    This is exciting. How can we wed the people-focused mission and city-centered strategy of Paul in our own approach to missions?

  6. June 22, 2006 10:45 am

    Two articles with direct bearing on these comments:

    In the Jan/Feb 2006 issue of Momentum Steve Spaulding wrote an article called “Who’s unreached in Asia” which broaches the subject of reaching minority peoples when the majority people group is still non-Christian with a very small population.

    Also, in the November/December 2005 issue
    there is an article called “Grown up vision” which deals with the complexity of ministry to one people group which sits in the context of multiple UPGs.

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