Who Are the Unreached?

We've been throwing around words—like people group, unreached, unengaged, lost, reached—that may have left you scratching your head, wondering exactly what we mean. Over the next two weeks, we will share a series of blog posts to explain what we mean when we use these words and why these terms are so important.

Who are the unreached? Who are the people who have never heard the gospel?

The unreached are people groups among whom there is no indigenous community of believing Christians who are able to engage the people group with church planting. (We call them Unreached People Groups, or UPGs for short.)

You’ll notice the phrase “people group” in that definition. If you’re not sure what that means, look at the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

When Jesus commanded the church to make disciples of all the nations, the word He used for nations there is ethnē, from which we get words like “ethnic groups.” This is important because when Jesus was talking about “nations” in Matthew 28:19, He wasn’t referring to nations like we think of today. Today, we think of nations as the approximately 200 geopolitical countries in the world—countries that didn’t exist 2000 years ago when Jesus said this. In this passage, Jesus is specifically talking about ethnic groups—groups of people that share common cultural and language characteristics.

Among the 200 countries that we know of today, there are a plethora of people groupings. And this applies to cities as well. In any given city around the world, you could make connections with different people groups. If you went out in your city and visited international restaurants, markets, community centers, and college campuses, you could meet people from dozens or even hundreds of different people groups!

So think about 200 countries filled with a diverse array of peoples. Most anthropologists and missiological scholars say there are over 11,000 different people groups. Keeping all of this in mind, “unreached peoples” are people groups who don’t have “an indigenous community of believing Christians,” meaning there is not a church made up of men and women from that people that is sufficient to engage that people with the gospel. In other words, no church has enough presence to make the gospel known among that people.

Technically speaking, when we say “unreached,” we’re saying that the percentage of evangelical Christians in a particular people group is less than 2%. And that’s important because if there’s not a substantial church presence among a people, then not only do over 98% of the people not believe the gospel, but because there’s no church around them, and no Christians among them, then most of them have never even met a Christian (i.e., a person who would share the gospel with them). Therefore, they are “unreached.” Most (if not all) of the people in that people group have not been reached by a Christian . . . and Christ has not been preached—or even named—among them.

Ask God to call Christians worldwide to focus their prayers on the unreached—those people groups who have no gospel witness.

Pray for the Good News of Jesus Christ to be proclaimed among all nations. Pray that men, women, and children from every people group will confess Him as Lord.