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Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church
By J. D. Payne
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 J.D. Payne
All rights reserved.
Unreached People Groups
The Bread of Life is simply not available to hundreds and hundreds of millions of people.
—David A. Fraser
One summer I flew into Montreal and then made a ten-hour drive into the Gaspé region of Quebec. Quebec is a province just across the US-Canadian border with a population of about seven million Quebecois—an unreached people comprised of an estimated 0.8 percent evangelical population. For the next week a team and I worked with one of the few believing families in the peninsula in the areas of outreach, evangelism, and looking for "people of peace" (Luke 10:5–7) with whom to begin a Bible study that would hopefully become a church.
On another trip I found myself navigating the public transportation system of London with its high numbers of people. I rode the tube and walked the sidewalks in one of the largest cities in Western Europe. Within the shadow of Big Ben is Fatimah, a resident of West London, a student, a Muslim who makes an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and a representative of an unreached people group.
While walking the streets of Paris, members of our evangelism team ventured into another part of the city from our location. While there they encountered many Turks and were able to enter into several conversations about the gospel, with a couple coming to faith in Jesus that day. The Turks have been described as the largest unreached people group in the world. Karem Kroc, pastor of the Antalya Protestant Church in Antalya, Turkey, believes that there are only about twenty-five hundred believers among the seventy-five million Muslims in Turkey alone.
The concept of people groups (including unreached people groups) is as old as the Old Testament that describes the unbelieving nations living around Israel. Even though popular discussions of unreached people groups can be traced back to 1974, there are still four billion people on the earth who do not have a relationship with Jesus, including over two billion who have never even heard the name Jesus. While the gospel has been advancing among the unreached peoples of the world, the high number of remote populations remains a pressure point for the church today.
Nations: from Countries to Peoples
For many years the church interpreted nations in Jesus' Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20) as meaning literal nation-states or countries. For example, Israel would be considered a nation. Egypt would be another. Libya another. To "go therefore and make disciples of all nations" was understood to be the going into a geopolitical area of the world, and as long as some people became followers of Jesus in that country, then that nation had been reached with the gospel.
However, in the mid-twentieth century, many began to question this interpretation and started advocating that the Greek expression ta ethne was to be understood not as countries on a map with their national boundaries (which are known to change) but as ethnic groups.
Taken in this light, Jesus' commission to make disciples of all the nations was not fulfilled when all of the countries of the world had some believers living within their boundaries. Now the church began to realize that a country such as Russia was not simply made up of Russians but consisted of Abaza, Digor, Kazakh, and Tajik, just to mention a few of the 170 peoples living there. India was not comprised of South Asian Indians but a multitude of various ethnic groups representing many languages, castes, and tribes. When such understandings of the biblical text began to be embraced, suddenly the ta ethne of Matthew 28:19 did not refer to the independent countries recognized by the United Nations in the 1950s but to thousands of ethnic groups speaking thousands of different languages and dialects.
While missiologist Ralph Winter was not the first to acknowledge this interpretation of the biblical text or the number of such groups in the world, his presentation at the 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization inspired and moved a multitude of evangelicals from across the globe to rethink what is necessary to make disciples of all nations.
Winter, in his presentation titled, "The Highest Priority: Cross-Cultural Evangelism," emphasized that there were thousands of hidden peoples in the world and, apart from cross-cultural missionary activity, they would never have a chance to hear and respond to the gospel. Seven years after his movement-making address in Lausanne, Switzerland, Winter wrote, "These peoples are being called the 'Hidden Peoples' and are defined by ethnic or sociological traits to be people so different from the cultural traditions of any existing church that missions (rather than evangelism) strategies are necessary for the planting of indigenous churches within their particular traditions."
By the 1980s, numerous evangelicals were advocating the importance of understanding and reaching the hidden peoples. Individuals such as Ed Dayton, C. Peter Wagner, and Luis Bush were just a few of the several outspoken leaders advocating this new direction in missions. Many mission agencies began to rethink their evangelization strategies and reoriented themselves to getting the gospel to the "10/40 Window," an imaginary perimeter on the globe where the majority of the world's hidden peoples live. Over time the nomenclature shifted, and hidden peoples became known as unreached peoples or unreached people groups (UPGs).
What Is a People Group?
While the words people group have been in use for many years now, it is still helpful to begin with a definition and description. Just because words are frequently used does not mean that most hearers (and users) know the meaning of those words. The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization defines a people group as "the largest group through which the gospel can flow without encountering significant barriers of acceptance or understanding." The LCWE goes on to explain that such groups may be defined in a variety of ways including language, culture, history, geography, and position in society. India with her caste system is a good example of this final category; the caste system transcends language, ethnicity, and geography.
Unengaged and Unreached
For the most part, missiologists hold to one of two related definitions of what constitutes an unreached people. The first definition would label a group unreached if less than 2 percent of that people group were evangelical and less than 5 percent of that people group considered themselves adherents to Christianity. For example, according to Joshua Project, of the thirty-seven million French in France, only 0.9 percent are evangelical, but 67 percent claim an adherence to Christianity. Because of the adherence rate, Joshua Project considers this group to be reached.
The second commonly used definition of an unreached people group, and the one to which I hold, states that a people is unreached if they are less than 2 percent evangelical, with the adherence rate not a consideration. According to this definition, the French people with an evangelical percentage of 0.9 percent would most definitely be considered unreached.
Christians are on every continent and in every country in the world. With such a multitude of believers, it would seem that there would be few unreached people groups in the world. Such is not the case, even with the amazing growth of the church in the Majority World (see chapter 3). Members of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization helped explain this present pressure point:
Despite the appearance that Christianity is everywhere, the truth is that at least one-quarter of humanity still has little or no access to the good news of Jesus Christ. These least reached are members of over 6,000 (out of about 16,000) distinct people groups whose languages, cultures and/or location have isolated them from believers in significantly more reached people groups living in their own countries and in others around the world....
These people groups, however, have virtually no choice with respect to the gospel. They fail to follow the One who said "Follow Me," not because they have rejected that call, but because they have never heard it. While many UPGs are relatively small in size (approximately 1/2 have populations of less than 10,000 each), at least 1,000 of these least reached people groups have populations of more than 100,000 each. More than 250 of them have populations exceeding one million each!
The term unengaged is a helpful addition to our nomenclature, for it assists in focusing our vision on the task at hand. Of the six thousand–plus unreached people groups in the world, some of them, while still less than 2 percent evangelical, have missionaries and churches among them. The word unengaged (often expressed as unengaged-unreached) brings our attention to those peoples with whom no one is applying any intentional evangelical church multiplication strategy. While prayer and advocacy for such groups are important, these two matters alone do not remove a group from the unengaged category.
There are three main databases from which we obtain our information on the unreached peoples of the world. The World Christian Database, Joshua Project, and Global Research Department of the International Mission Board8 have similar collections that are constantly being updated in light of new global realities. At the time of this writing, Global Research tells us there are
11,342 total people groups;
6,422 unreached people groups (not including the United States and Canada);
571 unreached people groups in the United States and Canada; and
3,133 unreached-unengaged people groups.
I am periodically asked why missiologists count evangelical Christians specifically whenever they evaluate reached and unreached people groups. The reason is simply that it is the easiest benchmark when attempting to measure a global population of billions of people. There are people who have repented of sin and placed their faith in Jesus and are part of Christian traditions who would not describe themselves as evangelical. And, to be fair, there are people who claim to be evangelical who have not been born again. No one claims that the evangelical benchmark is without its limitations. However, since understanding the global status of world evangelization is based on knowing who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and is likely to carry the gospel to others, the easiest way to determine this group is by identifying who is an evangelical.
Where Is Our Priority?
The Church at Brook Hills recently completed a study of the book of Revelation. This book challenges us to think about how we should live now as we look forward to the second coming of the Lord. One matter that we all must keep in mind is that as we await His return, there are multitudes who do not yet know about His first coming. We live in a world where over two billion people have never heard the gospel. Even with the hundreds of thousands of missionaries serving in the world today and decades of discussions related to unreached people groups, it is estimated that only 10 percent of the evangelical missionary force is doing pioneer mission work among unreached people groups. That means that nine times as many missionaries are serving among the reached people groups as among the unreached. To help put things in a different perspective, only about 14 percent of Buddhists, 14 percent of Hindus, 13 percent of Muslims, and 19 percent of all of those who are non-Christian know a Christian. It has also been estimated that 82 percent of Christian monies collected goes to home pastoral ministries, mainly in Europe and the Americas. Twelve percent goes to domestic missions. Less than 6 percent is spent on missions outside of these heavily Christianized regions. But only 0.1 percent goes toward the unevangelized world!
Our treasures are located where our passions, desires, energies, and very selves are found (Matt. 6:21). In view of the urgency of the gospel and the lostness of the peoples, clearly our priorities are not in the proper order. Can we say that we are Great Commission Christians whenever we manifest such poor stewardship? Such numbers reveal a most unwise use of our resources of people, money, and time in light of Jesus' mandate to us and the pressure point of seven thousand unreached people groups.
Strangers Next Door
Each year Western nations receive peoples from all over the world, many of whom represent some of the world's unreached people groups. When I wrote Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission, I wanted to raise awareness of the numbers of the unreached peoples who have been immigrating to the West. Including the 571 unreached people groups in the United States and Canada, I estimate that representatives from 1,200 unreached people groups are presently living in North America, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. This is a wonderful opportunity for the church to serve the nations. The opportunities for reaching out to those with the love of Christ are numerous and come with little challenges and opposition. While the greatest need for gospel advancement and church planting remains outside of the West, we must not forget that many of the unreached peoples have moved next door. Unfortunately for many churches, these peoples remain strangers to them.
While the pressure point of international migration is discussed in chapter 5, it is important in this chapter to draw attention to the reality of migration of unreached people groups. The nations have been migrating to unassuming locations. For example, Louisville, Kentucky, is home to many representatives of unreached people groups. When I lived there, our church regularly encountered Palestinians, Bosnians, Somalis, Nepalese, South Asian Indians, Japanese, and Chinese, to name a few. Just as the Lord has told us to go into all of the world and make disciples of the peoples, He has also brought many unreached peoples to our neighborhoods.
While writing this section of the book, I received a request from someone asking for guidance for his church regarding reaching South Asians living in his city in Ohio. He noted that many Bhutanese had been baptized and a church planted with them. Also, he and other believers were reaching out to many Indians living in the area and had observed four young Hindus make professions of faith in Jesus.
May such stories among the unreached peoples increase as churches make disciples of all nations, whether across the street or across the world! Whether laboring in their own neighborhood or in other nations, cross-cultural labors are an absolute necessity for churches.
Cross-Cultural Disciple Making Needed
For decades missiologists have classified disciple-making work according to the cultural distance between the one doing the work of an evangelist and those hearing the gospel. Each week that our church gathers for worship, an invitation is extended to those present to repent and place faith in Jesus. This is usually given during the sermon or at its conclusion. This type of evangelism is referred to as E-0, since generally speaking the culture is very similar for those present at our worship gathering. However, when I share the gospel with a white, middle-class American doing some construction work on my house, this category is E-1. It is evangelism done among those of my culture but outside of a local church gathering. The team that I helped lead to the Gaspé region of Quebec to work among the Quebecois was engaged in cross-cultural work, for they were not like us, culturally speaking. But as we were all North Americans and European descendants, our cultural differences were not significant. Similarly, those of us on the team in Paris working among the national Parisians found ourselves in a similar-yet-different context. Clearly there were cultural differences, but they were not stark differences. This type of evangelism has been categorized as E-2. Whenever our church sends a team to work among the Somalis in Minneapolis or the Han in China, we encounter cultural gaps are so wide that disciple making at this level is known as E-3.
The most needed type of disciple making today is found in the E-2 and E-3 categories both within North America and in other countries. Until the churches scattered across the world are willing to reach out and cross both slightly different and significantly different cultural barriers to share the love of Jesus, the unreached will remain unreached. Whether it is the Chinese church in San Francisco reaching across the bay area into the Afghani community, the African American church in downtown Chicago taking the gospel to the Guatemalans in their neighborhood, or the Korean church in rural Georgia preaching the truth among the Fulakunda in Senegal, cross-cultural work is the need of the hour.
Whether the church is in the United States or the Ukraine, this pressure point is a reminder to us that the church must become more and more cross-cultural in her global disciple-making efforts. Churches in Indonesia are going to have to bridge cultural gaps in order to reach into the Muslim people groups living on Java. Parisian believers must move from their comfort zones into the world of the Algerians living down the street from them or in North Africa. The unengaged-unreached have no known churches working among them; those that will work among them will have to do E-2 and E-3 labors.
Excerpted from PRESSURE POINTS by J. D. Payne. Copyright © 2013 J.D. Payne. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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