During the Lausanne Congress in 1974, the American missiologist Ralph Winter presented a paper entitled ‘The Highest Priority: Cross-Cultural Evangelism’. Winter’s central thesis was that although there are Christians in most countries of the world, the missionary task was far from finished because there were many people unreached by the Christian message because of cultural or social boundaries. He cited the example of the Church of South India, which represents only 5 of the more than 100 castes in the region. According to Winter, “it would be much more difficult – it is in fact another kind of evangelism – for this church to make great gains within the 95 other social classes, which make up the vast bulk of the population”
In the intervening forty-plus years, Winter’s ideas have been refined and developed, sometimes helpfully, sometimes less so. What he originally termed “hidden peoples” are now generally referred to as “unreached people groups”(UPGs) and there are at least three different definitions of UPGs out there if anyone wants to chase them up.
The point that I want to make is that regardless of current definitions of UPGs, Winter’s original description of the situation in India is analogous of the state in the UK. True, we don’t have 100 castes, but we do have a country which is sharply divided by class and in which the church is largely failing to reach a significant part of the population – the working classes.
Now, I realise that the UPG purists will quickly leap in and say that the British working class are not a separate ethno-linguistic group from the rest of the population and so can’t be classed as unreached. However, this ignores the fact depth of separation within UK society. The church in the UK is broadly middle class and middle class and working class people tend to shop at different supermarkets, watch different television channels, read different newspapers and have different pass times. There is very little mobility between the two and what there is, is from the working class to the middle class, not the other way round. From my observations, the communication gap at the heart of our society is growing and there is an undercurrent of hostility starting to creep in. Much, though by no means all, of the anger that was generated over Brexit was to do with a middle class who were annoyed at the provincial working classes who did not share their values.
My point is that although the British working class may not fit the classic definitions of unreached people groups, they are unreached and there are cultural, if not linguistic, barriers that the mainly middle class church will have to overcome if this slice of the population is to be reached with the gospel. Carrying on doing what we are currently doing will not work.