Believing God for Unreached People Groups
You don't measure yourself by your success but by the unfinished task.
What we believe shapes our priorities and determines how we live.
We believe, as the founders of our Fellowship did, that our Lord commands us to proclaim His gospel and establish His church in all the world. We also believe, as our early leaders did, the Lord’s promise that His Spirit would empower us to accomplish that mission.
Recent statistics reveal that the worldwide Assemblies of God now numbers 65 million. We rejoice in the church growth that has taken place in the last 100 years. Yet we know, as former Assemblies of God World Missions Executive Director Loren Triplett said, “You don’t measure yourself by your success but by the unfinished task.”
More than 4 billion people have not yet had an adequate witness of our Lord’s saving message. The purpose of AGWM is “so all can hear.” We must pay any price to keep fulfilling that purpose.
I recently preached at a new church plant in Istanbul, Turkey. Among those in the small congregation were 22 Muslim visitors. As I was sharing the message of salvation, the Islamic call to prayer rang out over the city. Although the call to prayer sounded in our ears, the visitors remained seated, listening attentively. The contrast was almost overwhelming. The message of Christ drowned out the Islamic call to prayer.
Several years ago I shared Christ with a Buddhist from Mongolia, and he became a believer. Many Hindus heard the gospel and several came to faith when I preached in Mumbai, India. At the request of a new believer in another location, I participated in a renaming ceremony during which he took a Christian name. This brother wanted this new name so he could be a witness in his community. In Africa, I have preached to animists who forsook their beliefs to receive Christ. In Europe, I have often shared the gospel with people bound by secularism and a Christless Christianity.
Every day AGWM personnel around the world confront people trapped in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, animism, spiritism, Christless Christianity, and secularism. However, almost 3 billion people who adhere to the three largest pagan religions — Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism — live in places that are difficult to reach with the gospel. The descriptive term for those who are not easily accessible to the gospel is Unreached People Groups or UPGs.
The Lostness of Humanity
Before we can fully grasp the need of UPGs, we must understand the lostness of mankind and the biblical meaning of “peoples.”Both are foundational to our understanding of the unreached.
The concept of lostness does not fit well into a seeker-sensitive paradigm. However, understanding that man is lost without Christ is fundamental to preaching the gospel. We must draw our conclusions of lostness from Scripture, and particularly from the words and example of Jesus.
Luke 19:10 states, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:4–7 compares the lost to sheep that have gone astray. Nothing is more important for the Shepherd than retrieving the lost sheep. In Luke 15:24, Jesus compares lostness to death and states that when a sinner repents, there is great rejoicing in heaven.
In Luke 5:31,32, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” We must renew our understanding that people without Christ are lost, and an eternity of suffering in hell awaits them. When we firmly grasp this concept along with Jesus’ message, we can better appreciate the task of reaching the unreached.
Reaching Unreached People Groups
Unreached people groups have been a hot topic for evangelical Christians since Ralph Winter coined the term in 1974 at the Lausanne Conference for World Evangelization. This concept has had a profound effect on the mission strategy of evangelicals.
How do we define UPGs? Assemblies of God World Missions agrees with this widely accepted statement: “An unreached people group is an ethnolinguistic population among whom there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate number and resources to evangelize the rest of its members without outside (cross-cultural) assistance.”
In 1921, our founding forefathers formulated our missiological stance, stating, “We will seek out neglected regions where the gospel has not yet been preached” (1921 Assemblies of God General Council resolution). We reaffirmed this stance in our statement of basic values in 1988: “Every person should hear the gospel in his own language and cultural context. The General Council of the Assemblies of God USA is a mandated steward of God’s grace to disciple the people of all nations and cultures. This is our objective and urgent task before Jesus returns.”
As recently as November 2011, the AGWM leadership team confirmed a commitment to reach the unreached with the gospel, acknowledging that an estimated 86 percent of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists have never met a Bible-believing Christian. Former AGWM Executive Director of John Bueno stated it clearly: “Many of our pioneers questioned the fairness of ministering to and nurturing Christians when so many people had not heard the name of Jesus even once. Jesus wants us to look beyond those who are already in the fold and reach out to those who need a clear witness of the Savior.”
AGWM Communications Director Randy Hurst summarized the need well: “It’s about access.” We need to reach out to all people who have no or very limited access to the gospel.
The concept of limited access is hard for the average American Christian to understand. Why? Because in America there are 2,400 Christian radio stations, more than 100 Christian television stations, numerous Christian cable television networks, more than 1,000 Christian bookstores, and more than 130,000 evangelical churches that are proclaiming the gospel.
Such accessibility to the gospel is a stark contrast to what I saw in Istanbul, Turkey, a city of 18 million people. Fewer than 1,000 believers worship in the city, and accessibility to the gospel is limited. The same condition is true in many major cities around the world.
Our commitment to reach the unreached and least reached grows not only out of a present-day understanding of lostness and unreached people groups but also out of our historically recognized precedence of pioneering the gospel in neglected regions. A Spirit-led, impassioned understanding of the opportunities and stewardship responsibilities we have as a mission has reignited this commitment to the unreached.
Several facts are important to remember:
First: We recognize we are living in the age of an unprecedented outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Since the initial 20th-century outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity has grown worldwide from less than 1 percent of Christianity to more than 27 percent.1 Pentecostals have an inherent responsibility to preach the gospel because we have been empowered to do so according to Acts 1:8.
Second: God has favored our mission. Our history is full of stories of pioneers penetrating new territories with the gospel. The number of missionaries and missionary associates serving with AGWM has grown to more than 2,700. They reach into 252 countries, territories, and provinces and involve more than 65 million members of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship. With more than 355,000 churches — a number that grows by one church every 42 minutes — our stewardship responsibility is continually increasing.
Third: AGWM partners with other AG and AG-affiliated movements that have sent more than 4,800 missionaries to other nations. Our sister fellowships around the world are mandated by the same Great Commission we follow. With our resident missionaries, developed partner network, and the outreaches of ministries with an international focus, such as Global Initiative and Global University, we are equipping and empowering believers around the world.
In many countries, it is difficult if not impossible for U.S. missionaries to acquire resident visas. However, our partners do not face this issue. For example, the Romanian fellowship started sending missionaries to other countries only 6 years ago. Believers there have since sent out more than 35 missionaries, the majority of whom are serving in the 10/40 Window where it is difficult to acquire a visa for a U.S. citizen. This mission agency came about because of years of investment by our resident missionaries and Global Initiative.
Worldwide, our partner fellowships are as committed to taking the gospel to unreached peoples as are we. The desire to preach the gospel to those who had never heard drove the apostle Paul. His words in 2 Corinthians 10:16 echo through the centuries to our modern spiritual ears: “so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you.” With this in mind, AGWM has launched BEYOND — the unreached peoples imperative to empower our regions and International Ministries to do all they can to go beyond.
The Europe region is reaching out to culturally diverse communities. The Asia Pacific region is gearing up to send teams into Buddhist strongholds. The Africa region has developed the Live/Dead concept. The Eurasia region has sent teams to the least-reached in North India and instituted Live/Dead in the Arab world. The Northern Asia region has instituted Apostolos to reach unreached peoples. The Latin America region has missionaries serving among the least-reached tribes on the continent. Missionaries with International Ministries, which includes Network 211, Global University, Life Publishers, and Global Initiative, are proactively going to the regions beyond with electronic media, training, and equipping.
BEYOND — the unreached peoples imperative has a website (www.beyond.ag.org) for our constituency to track what AGWM is doing. Users can also direct specific inquiries to a particular region or ministry.
Our research department, in conjunction with the regions of AGWM, is tracking our efforts among the unreached of the world. Of the more than 6,000 unreached people groups, AGWM is currently working among more than 200. Pray for them. AGWM has committed approximately 34 percent of its finances to these neglected regions. We need more. Over the past 20 years, the Spirit of God has been leading personnel into “regions beyond,” and the number of missionaries to unreached areas has more than tripled. Still we need more.
Partnering to Reach the Lost
Our mission in 252 countries and territories of the world is possible because of the committed partnership of thousands of churches in America. What can churches in America do to help reach unreached peoples?
1. Engage your congregation in prayer for unreached peoples. Our new AGWM website, www.agwm.com/pray, features a prayer focus for a specific region, nation, and unreached people group each day. The AGWM app for iPhone, iPad, and Droid also includes a “pray” section that reflects the website. Members of your congregation can visit the app store, search “AGWM,” and download the app free.
2. Give to the Unreached Peoples Fund. Possibly you could receive one offering a year for this fund or even support it monthly. Specify “Unreached Peoples, account #42468646 (40).”
3. Send people from your congregation as the Holy Spirit calls them. Young people especially may get a burden for unreached peoples if they contact www.wideopenmissions.org. This site gives information on short-term missions opportunities as well as needs for career missionaries among unreached peoples.
4. Utilize resources produced by AGWM to apprise your congregation of the issues of lostness, people’s eternal destiny, and the vast unfinished task. Beyond.ag.org has a wealth of information on the hundreds of unreached people groups our missionaries and national churches are engaged. As you communicate missions in your church, the Spirit will speak to people’s hearts to respond.
Our responsibility is to take the whole gospel to the whole world. We will not compromise. Our purpose is so all can hear.
The Spirit has been leading our AGWM executive team to employ every means possible to reach those who have the least or even no access to the gospel. We believe we can proclaim Christ’s message inall the world because of His promise of the Spirit’s enablement.
- Timothy Tennent, “The State of the Church in the Modern World” online slide presentation. Used in Towards a Pentecostal European Urban Church Planting Missiology Defining the Role of Assemblies of God World Missions in Conjunction with It’s Partners (Springfield, Missouri: Life Publishers, 2006), 42.