Today is the first International Day for the Unreached. See the official website here. See the live event here.
Beyond has put together a resource page here, which includes a pair of new videos (I think this one is really powerful), links to articles and books that may be useful.
Kent Parks (CEO, Beyond) and I were on Point of Network to talk about the day – you can watch our interview here (now in full video!)
For more information about the unreached, you can search this website for the phrase. I use it a lot.
Eric D on the Traveling Team talks about the “hijacking” of unreached: how it’s used for lots of things it’s not intended for
Globalcast Video: Pastor Chris Lazo talks about the opportunity and what the church should do about it
Lausanne post: https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2017-05/finishing-the-remaining-29-of-world-evangelization
Ywam Organic least reached video.
Here are two Bible.com reading plans on missions/unreached:
Are we getting anywhere in mission? https://missionexus.org/are-we-getting-anywhere-in-mission/
God’s Big Heart for the Least: https://missionexus.org/gods-big-heart-for-the-least/
Great Commission quotes: https://missionexus.org/great-quotes-on-the-great-commission/
Perhaps the key thing to do on this day is to join with other believers in prayer, but also to use this day to make people at our church aware of the day – so that next year, an even greater participation can happen.
And, we can build networks of people working on this. In fact, this blog post is in large part the beneficiary of such a network: many of the links were recommended to me by my friend Jon Hirst. He is a Generous Mind.
Yes, the world is becoming more globalized. Diaspora (refugees, migrants, students, business people, tourists, etc) are in lots of places. The UN estimates there are over 250 million migrants in the world.
BUT: most of the world’s non-Christians are still found outside the West. (And the unevangelized are by definition non-Christians, so most of the unevangelized/unreached will be where the non-Christians are.)
Over 2 billion–nearly 3 billion–non-Christians are found in India and China alone. These regions are estimated at half-or-more unreached/unevangelized. This is where the bulk of the remaining task is found.
That’s why I still focus on North Africa / West Africa / Asia.
Although “unreached” has a technical definition, with complex nuances, sometimes when people use “unreached” they mean something very different. Exploring the different ways people can use “unreached” shows how easily we overlook or forget the people “unreached” is intended to help us remember.
- “There are lost ___________ (insert favorite denominational group here) sitting in the pews, who are just as unreached as anyone else in the world. Maybe more so.” Here, “unreached” is being used to refer to people whose spiritual condition is in need of revival. They may claim to be Christian (e.g. “sitting in pews”) but are showing little fruit (at least in the eyes of this observer). While not denying the need for revival amongst many Western churches, this is not what we mean by unreached.
- “I was raised in a Christian home, and my parents took me to church on all the major holidays, but I never heard the Gospel until…” Here “unreached” is referring to the “hardened” or “semi-hardened” sinner who has not yet responded to the Gospel. Two variants of this abound: those who “never heard the Gospel” from their supposedly Christian culture, and the “I heard the Gospel frequently but it never made sense to me until ____[I heard it this way]____.” Generally, people have more access to the Gospel than they think, but it often takes a number of Gospel-exposures for it to “stick.” (In fact, some studies suggest the ratio of Christian to non-Christian friends is perhaps the biggest key; if more non-Christian friends, it is less likely for any single exposure to stick.)
- “All those atheists in Europe are just as unreached as all the groups that are getting so much attention.” This example is essentially equating all non-Christians. It is true that lost is lost, at least in terms of the net effect of eternal salvation or lostness. But the major point that unreached makes is: reached non-Christians have had the Gospel brought to them, or will have it brought to them early in their lifetime. Virtually all Europeans know a Christian of some kind (many European non-Christians were once Christians themselves); many if not most know an evangelical Christian. And, for those who do not have a personal friendship with an evangelical, the fact is virtually all are within easy relational distance of evangelical Christians if they were so mobilized. (For example, every place/person in France is within a 30 minute drive of an evangelical church.)
- “This group has missionaries and they are engaged; we should go to the unengaged groups only.” I appreciate what FTT and their friends have done for raising attention and focus on people groups that lack any work at all. But–and FTT themselves would say the same thing–unengaged is not the same thing as unreached. Engaging a group is the first step on the road. Reached means that missionaries are no longer needed; the indigenous church can do the job.
The point of “unreached” isn’t that a person hasn’t heard. The same thing could be said of any child under about 5 years of age. The unreached are important because they will not have a chance to hear in their lifetime. It isn’t that the Gospel hasn’t gotten to them yet or that it hasn’t gotten to them in a way they can understand or that few of their friends are Christians. It’s that the Gospel will likely not get to them at all, and there are few plans (or none at all) to change that. They are forgotten: left out of our minds and strategies, which are largely focused on the people above.
Recent conversations have reminded once again that the terms we use to define the task are not Biblical terms. They are barely Biblical concepts. We try to drive our understanding from Scripture, but these measures are always lacking in some way.
It seems very clear (at least to me) from Scripture (Matt 28 and 24 are our go-to passages, always, but Rev 7:9 and pieces from the OT etc fit in as well) that we have been given a task. This task involves both proclamation of the Good News and disciple-making. There’s even a big, tantalizing, mysterious carrot for us: Matthew 24:14 can be read to indicate when the task is done, Jesus comes back. (Maybe.)
We know what Scripture records of how Jesus did things, but even Scripture tells us the record isn’t complete. (End of John.) And we don’t want to get “too locked in” to things we shouldn’t be locked in on. Jesus didn’t do Twitter – but then Twitter wasn’t around in those days. Would he have done Twitter if it had been? Eh…
Here’s an analogy: it’s as if I headed out the door, and as I headed out the door, I told my kids to do the dishes before I got back. (Rough analogy.) I didn’t tell them precisely HOW to do the dishes. So, what do they have to judge whether the task I have given them is complete? They have basically how I’ve done the dishes in the past (my example) and how I’ve shown them to do the dishes in the past.
When I said “do the dishes” did I mean just the ones in the sink? Did I mean to scour the house for every last dish? Did I mean to re-wash all the dishes in the cupboard? It’s only obvious if you know me – and even then, there can be some ambiguity.
When we define “closure” and “unreached” and “unevangelized” and “the 10/40 Window” and “non-Christian” and all these terms… we are getting into messy and murky waters. It’s not that we shouldn’t try and define the task – definition precedes doing and measuring. But we should realize that in many ways we are making up our own measures to try and describe “the things we have seen and heard.”
(Really, we’re describing the things we see and hear as recorded in Scripture…)
People will quarrel and argue and fight over these definitions when maybe we should hold them very loosely.
My general rule of thumb is: let’s take a definition and do it. And if Jesus doesn’t come back, let’s just take another, deeper, definition, and do that. And let’s allow for mystery and muddiness and murkiness in the waters while we do, and be humble and charitable about our work.
At a recent discussion forum around the definition of the unreached, I was reminded of some of the complexities and nuances involved.
The term unreached has a long history (read a great review article in the latest issue of IJFM). Concisely: “An unreached or least-reached people is a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group without outside assistance” (Joshua Project).
To know whether a people group is unreached requires us to ask five questions, some of which are easy and some of which are less so:
Is there a church among the people? On the surface, this is easy to answer. Part of the issue becomes what expressions of Christianity we count.
Is the church an indigenous expression? This is far harder. It can be explore through the data in the World Christian Encyclopedia and other sources. It is made complex by the fact that every country has multiple denominations or groups of churches. Each of these can be “more or less” an indigenous expression, and may span multiple people groups.
Might it evangelize this people group? This is one of the hardest questions to answer; in many cases there will be no answer that everyone (or even most) agree on. I generally interpret this to mean “all of the people group.” The “might” question is exceptionally difficult to answer because it’s qualitative. How do we judge whether a church might be able to evangelize a group? Is it a size question, or the type of strategy it uses, or the type of worship forms, or… This is the question that we grapple with.
Is it working on evangelizing the people group? This is far easier to answer. Plans and strategies will generally be visible. I think it’s easier to look for those who “are working on” instead of those who “might be able to.”
Is it evangelizing all? In some instances, church communities are already in a position to reach everybody, and are mostly doing this. In which case, the question is answered.
The challenging, “gray” zone is when a people group has a church (or multiple churches) that are indigenous expressions, and which outsiders believe might evangelize the group but they clearly are not engaged in doing so. Is the group then unreached? The operating definition of “unreached” is “has a church that can do it.” If the local church can do it, it needs revival.
But this is not to say there isn’t a role for outsiders. Sometimes, expats need to go where locals will not, because time is ticking away.