SIDEBAR: Reaching Unreached People Groups
We know from Scripture that God loves every person on Earth. He is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).
The scope of the task for God’s people, the Church, is to declare His wonderful salvation to the whole world. In that sense, all evangelism is equal, as everyone is in need of the saving message.
But there is another sense in which all evangelism is not equal. This is because while all people are equally lost spiritually, not all of them have equal access to the gospel. Some people groups have no Christians or churches among them to share the gospel in a relevant fashion.
Mission thinkers call Christians of the same language and culture “near-neighbor witnesses.” The gospel travels fastest by near-neighbor witnesses, but when there are no Christians among a people (or so few that the chance of meeting such a witness is unlikely) cross-cultural witnesses can come, live among them, share the gospel, and plant a church.
Barriers that keep people from receiving the good news, even when they live geographically near Christians, are understanding and acceptance. These cultural obstacles include language, caste, and religious worldview, among other things.
People who study the global mission of the Church realize that while the Church exists in nearly every nation-state on earth, it is not present in many of the cultural language groups that populate those nations. These people groups lack near-neighbor witnesses who can share the message of Jesus in a relevant manner through word and deed.
Mission thinkers settled on the term “unreached people group”1 to describe such populations. These groups have no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate resources to evangelize the rest of its members without outside, cross-cultural assistance.
It is important to remember that unreached in this sense is a technical term to refer to people who have limited or no access to the gospel in a way they can understand and accept. It is not a synonym for lost people in general. A group with many non-Christians and a vibrant, indigenous witnessing community is not, by definition, an unreached people group.
Experts say 2.91 billion people today in more than 7,000 distinct people groups are less than 2 percent evangelical Christian. These same people have less than 5 percent of any form of the Christian faith among them. These people live primarily in the Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist religious blocs. According to estimates, 86 percent of them do not know even one Christian.2
This is the great cross-cultural mission challenge of our time. The need
is to put boots-on-the-ground workers among these people groups with the least access to the gospel. Post-Christian Europe has 20 countries that are less than 1 percent evangelical, and the vast majority of the Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist worlds have either no access or extremely limited access to the gospel, Christians, and churches.These large segments of
humanity represent over 40 percent of our world and the most difficult and complex missionary task.
When it comes to spiritually lost people who lack access to the gospel, it is not enough to do helpful projects. The situation requires workers on the ground with language and cultural competency to tell the story of Jesus. That is why I like to say that for unreached people groups the worker is the project. God is calling workers to give their lives away among the unreached. Who will send them?
Alan R. Johnson