In the 1980s the buzzword in international missions was unreached people groups. Ralph Winter had pointed out at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization that a very large percentage of missionaries were serving among people groups that already had a significant Christian presence. He strongly advocated a shift in focus toward those groups where there were few or no Christians. In groups where less than 2% are Christian believers, the average non-Christian will simply never encounter a Christian or see the Gospel changing lives. Following the priority of Paul in Romans 15, such groups should get special attention, said Winter.
In the last decade or so the buzzword has been partnership. Given the fact that so many people in so many countries are Christians, we ought to work primarily with (not through!) international partners in doing missions. These relationships should be founded on respect for the gifts God has given our partners and be responsive to the priorities which they sense the Spirit having.
It seems to me that this emphasis on partnership is vital and long overdue. However, one danger is that it could tend to pull us back toward focusing on ministry among reached people groups and detract from work among the unreached. There are still approximately 1.5 billion people living in unreached people groups, 27% of the world’s population. Only 2% of the world’s missionaries are attending to them. We don’t need less focus on the unreached but more. However, this too can be done in partnership. We need to partner with Christians around the world to do collaborative ministry among the unreached. This is already happening in one of the countries of CRWM ministry (which can’t be named for security reasons). And needs to happen much more.