I, like Justin Long, often hear people alluding to thoughts like, “There are unreached people groups right here in Phoenix / Dallas / New York / [enter city here]. Why do I need to go to Africa or China?”

Because hackers and coffee enthusiasts and skaters do not represent ethnolinguistic people groups, but subcultures, and usually have direct access to the gospel around them.

Because hackers and coffee enthusiasts and skaters do not represent ethnolinguistic people groups, but subcultures, and usually have direct access to the gospel around them.

Perhaps it is time to redefine our terms and understand their origins.

If we misunderstand the words unevangelized or unreached or unengaged, we miss the necessity for missionaries and cross cultural missions efforts.

Here’s the reality: “We talk of the Second Coming; half the world has never heard of the first.” – Oswald J. Smith

Justin does a great job of breaking down the terms in this article. Hope it inspires you to pray for those in the 10/40 Window who have yet to hear the gospel.

“Rejoice with divine hilarity when once his voice is heard.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, March 24

Of couse, John Piper has enlightening thoughts on this subject yet once again:


Unreached Is Not Unevangelized Is Not Unengaged

by Justin Long

(Reposted with permission. Read original article here.)


I’ve had this conversation a couple times now over the past few days, and it bears repeating, because the devil is in the definitions.

A “People group is”: A significantly large sociological grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity with one another. “For evangelization purposes, a people group is the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.” I as a rule resist any effort to make a sociopolitical grouping into a people group. Hackers are not a people group, and neither is the Royal Family of England–but I have to admit the caste situation in India is one area that is very challenging.

“Unreached” is: a people group lacking a church with the capacity to evangelize the whole of the people group, to its [geographic/linguistic/cultural/whatever] borders without cross-cultural assistance. Bottom line: a group is unreached if the indigenous church can’t do the job on their own. However, the “if” question is very subjective–and it does not take in to account whether the church is doing the job–only if it is able to do the job.) The original definition did not have a numeric measurement of any sort in it; the Joshua Project makes its own stab at a measurement with its 2% evangelical OR 5% Christian; the IMB has a different measurement.

“Unevangelized” is: a people group where the majority (>50%) are estimated to have no access to Christ, Christianity or the Gospel. This is based on a variety of factors including the presence of the local church and the effect of ministries among the people group. (In this model, a person can be evangelized but not Christian–that is called “World B.”)

“Unengaged” is: a people group in which there is no active church planting underway. (Efforts like relief & development, Bible translation, short term missions, medical missions, education, and what have you do not count if they do not include a long-term church planting model. Also, most who use ‘unengaged’ are evangelicals and so do not count any Orthodox/Catholic church planting efforts.)

There is some stickiness in this nomenclature, obviously. “Unevangelized” is the easiest, because it was designed by statistically-minded people. Let’s take the Chinese as an example: there’s about ~800 million in the cluster, and about 10% of China is Christian (=120 million believers or so, in round numbers). Are the Chinese unevangelized? To fit the definition, about 400 million would have to have no access to the Gospel. It’s not unrealistic to think each believer could/would impact 4 others, or >400 million believers, so it’s very possible the Chinese no longer fit in the “majority unevangelized” category. Are the Chinese unreached? This is more problematic. Can the Chinese church handle the task on their own, without cross-cultural assistance? Well, they were doing the task while the country was mostly-closed, and the church blossomed. They are still largely the ones doing the task today, although they invite others to take part in some key ways. By my reckoning, the Chinese are no longer “unreached,” but others would disagree with me. Yet even though I would say they are not unreached, I still think there is plenty of reason for mission agencies (esp. our own) to deploy workers among them. Those workers ought to be placed strategically into “unreached” or “unevangelized” subsets.

The point is that we need to understand these terms, and others that get bandied about – terms like “less-reached,” “least-reached,” and “least-evangelized” (which have no technical definitions and are generally meant to imply people with less access, obviously.) We need to think about how we use them.

David Joannes
Founder/President at Within Reach Global
David Joannes is the co-founder and president of Within Reach Global, Inc, which serves the advance of the Gospel in some of Southeast Asia’s most difficult places. He is the author of The Space Between Memories: Recollections from a 21st Century Missionary. David has a love for language, culture, and creative writing, and for the last 20 years, he has witnessed God’s Kingdom established in forgotten parts of the globe. David lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with his wife, Lorna, and their daughter, Cara.
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