The Frontier of Mission Advance is Shifting

By pam's pics-
During my recent tour through Michigan teaching the infamous "Lesson 14" of Perspectives ("Pioneer Church Planting"), one of my primary emphases was that in the 21st century, the frontiers of mission are shifting radically.  In the latter part of the 20th century, Ralph Winter (following McGavaran and Townsend) opened the eyes of the Church to the reality of unreached and unengaged people groups.  Frontier missiology was thought of as primarily a discussion of how to get the gospel to unreached peoples who had never heard.  It was critical in those days to de-emphasize geography in order to help mission leaders and practioners realize that the "unfinished task" was about reaching peoples rather than about merely establishing the church in every geo-political country.  As Winter said strongly, "Geography is not as important as peoples."

Today, frontier missions is still about unreached peoples and this has become the overwhelming majority opinion of the evangelical world.  But Winter had also seemed to believe that understanding what was happening to peoples geographically was key for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.  So, to quote Winter with a bit more context, “Geography is not as important as peoples.  Once that is clear, the question of where they are is a very exciting one." (Unreached Peoples: What Are They and Where Are They?, 1984) 

Today, we must ask afresh the geographical question of where are the unreached peoples of the world.  Indeed, it may be more appropriate to ask where they are going.  In a new era of mission history, we see a borderless and wireless world of instant communication, high-speed travel, and ever-accelerating mass migration.  People are on the move like never before.  My friend, Joy Tira, likes to refer to this as a "Human Tidal Wave" which is an image that captures well the magnitude and power of diaspora phenomena.

I have much more to say on this issue.  But today, I would rather you take a look at an excellent post by another friend, Justin Long.   In "Shifts in the Remaining Task", Justin writes about the traditional understanding of "World A, B, and C" or "evangelized" and "unevangelized" and reflects upon how migration and urbanization totally transforming the mission field in our day.

Here's an excerpt:

Most World A (unevangelized) individuals are found in heavily World B peoples, cities and countries. And more and more, we are seeing World B provinces and cities in World C countries. This is especially the case because of the movements of diaspora peoples into World C countries. Europe today, according to the Atlas of Global Christianity, is home to 28 million unevangelized individuals. I know some will think the number is far higher. My point is only that the West is not 100% Christian, and there’s plenty of room for work. One can’t say that Europe or America is completely evangelized–only that it is largely evangelized.

Please take careful look at Justin's entire article.  He has done a great job of  helping us to understand the exciting and complex nature of today's shifting mission frontiers.  Now consider:

1. Do the mission structures of your church reflect the realities of these shifting frontiers? 

2. Who are the "World A" peoples and the "unreached people groups" that live near you?

3. How do you see the "Human Tidal Wave" powerfully changing the dynamics of your city?


  1. Cody, great article--one of the things I have been wrestling with locally is the lack of education on mission within the local church. You say in this article that people have widely accepted the people group definitions of Winter, which is true in Evangelical academic circles--but for the most part, 99% of Christians in the pew are blissfully unaware of this concept--and for that matter lack a clear understanding of what mission is.

    I think the current 'missional' church trend is doing even more damage--we have a bunch of young start-up churches that are 'doing mission' that largely aren't doing mission the way that missionary academics are talking about (i.e. people groups, diaspora etc).

    Many new church plants that have gotten on the missional bandwagon have almost no understanding or place for international missions within their structures--I have yet to visit one 'missional' church that has a heart for the unreached--although they may be doing good work in their local communities reaching out to broken families and the unchurched.

    Something is broken, and I wonder whether mission academics need to descend from the ivory tower (or the front line trenches) and invest in the local church and mission education for the masses.

    1. Cody, thanks for the article - another good one. About to work through the Long article next.

      Ian, you are right on brother! For the "average" Christian, missions is not front of mind, maybe not even in mind at all. Most of the time, when I talk to church-goers here in the South about the "unreached", they respond, "Well, we've got lots of unreached people right here in my town." Sometimes, with the mobility of diaspora peoples, they are more correct than they realize. But, that isn't what they are talking about.

      There is a lack of missions education, and I would add a thorough lack of willingness to learn.

    2. I, of course, agree with both of you. I would say that among evangelical missions leaders and practioners, we have a basic consensus that the Great Commission is about "peoples" rather than about countries. Among pew-sitters we have nothing like that. Plenty of folks are still looking strangely at Carey and snarking, "If God wants to save the heathen, he will do it without your help or mine!"