I have suggested before the idea that the three wave model of Protestant Mission history is inadequate. There was a Pioneer trickle of missions from quite early (perhaps 1520 is a bit too early). Out of that trickle came the great waves. Each characteristic wave had its proto-pioneers— in terms of translation, bivocational ministry, mission agency development and more. But each wave would peter out… not because of failure, but because of success.
Coastland Wave was started with the creation of viable mission structures that could maintain missionary presence in seaports. It petered out as coastlands in most places were essentially “reached.
Inland Wave was started (theoretically at least) with “faith-based missions” that was spurred on by improved overland transportation. It petered out as large geographically unreached areas faded away except in pockets that were driven more by cultural boundaries than limits in transportation.
The People Group Wave was started with a focus on languages and unreached people groups. Large unreached people groups are going down, and stats of thousands of UPGs seem a bit arbitrary. That doesn’t mean they are gone by any means. But there are trends that make these groups less critical each year. One well-known chart shows the People Group Wave continuing until Christ returns. In the past, I complained about this because it seems highly presumptive. It is also a bit lazy to assume that one doesn’t need to do any more strategy… major strategy changes at least… because Jesus must be coming soon. Now, I would say that present trends support the thought that it was presumptive.
It seems to me that the People Group Wave is in decline due to:
- Globalization and Multiculturalism and improvements in communication
- Human migration patterns
- Growth of “mega-cities”
These come together to suggest that the greatest need for missionaries is in multicultural urban communities where the gospel does exist but is not presented or demonstrated in a manner that appears relevant. The gospel is lost in the cacophany.
It is starting to be the time when we have to focus less on Unreached People Groups and more on Underreached Great Urban Centers (GUCs, or perhaps UGUCs if you prefer).