What unreached is not

In random conversations, emails, blog posts, and social media, I often hear the term “unreached” bandied about. You can actually see a cross section of some of the usages of “unreached” at the Oxford Dictionaries project here: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/unreached. It is fascinating to read.

However, “unreached” has a technical definition that researchers and mission strategists understand and use. This definition, put simply, is: “an unreached group lacks a church with the resources to evangelize the group to its borders without cross cultural assistance.”

So, some things reached/unreached is not:

  • “reached” doesn’t mean every individual has heard the Gospel; it means the indigenous church could bring the Gospel to every individual. (For one thing, babies have to grow up.)

  • “reached” doesn’t mean that every person is a Christian; some will hear the Gospel and not choose to follow.

  • “reached” doesn’t mean that every person has a Christian near them, as a witness.

A group is unreached if it doesn’t have an indigenous church that can do the job. That’s the bottom line. It doesn’t mean the job is done. (Technically, the definition doesn’t even discuss whether the job will be done.) There’s a natural next question: how do we know if the indigenous church can do the job? And that’s a discussion that’s been had and debated for a very long time, and not one that I will solve in this post.

When someone says “we have to reach them with the Gospel” they usually aren’t using “reached” in the missiological “reached/unreached peoples” sense; they’re using it in the evangelistic sense. When we respond, we need to keep this in mind: we can hear passion, while understanding there’s a lot in that statement that would have to be unpacked from a strategic sense. “Who’s ‘we’? ‘Have to?’—who has to? what does it mean to ‘reach’? ‘with the Gospel’ can imply a very content-oriented approach…”

When I hear this on social media and other places, I try to just hear and encourage the passion, and leave the strategy and technical conversations for more appropriate venues.