A Note About This Article
This post originally appeared at e3partners.org in 2016 to add color to the plight of unreached people groups and explain why it remains such a critical issue in today’s society.
They go by a variety of labels – the unreached, the unengaged, UPGs, or UUPGs. If you spend more than five minutes with a missionary, you’ll hear some variation of these terms over and over again. Unreached people groups are the rallying cry for missions organizations. They’re what make us get out of bed every morning.
So, what are they?
People groups are, well, groups of people. They are individual cultures who are often defined by a shared language and perspective on the world. According to The Joshua Project, the leading research organization who catalogs them, there are 9,701 known people groups in the world. All 7.1 billion of us fall into one of these demographic subsets.
When you hear that a group is “unreached,” it means there are so few Christians that they are unable to substantially spread the Gospel. Over 3,900 people groups fall into this category, representing over 3 billion people.
But then there’s the even scarier label – “unengaged.” These are unreached groups who, for whatever reason, don’t even have a missionary presence. In other words, they don’t know the Gospel, we know they don’t know the Gospel, and yet no one is actively reaching out to them.
It’s every missionary’s dream to cross groups off the unreached and unengaged lists. So, why are they still unreached? Or worse, unengaged?
1. It’s very dangerous.
David Platt once commented, “Unreached peoples are unreached for a reason. They’re hard, difficult, and dangerous to reach. All the easy ones are taken.”
In large part, this is true. Many unreached and unengaged groups reside in countries ravaged by violence and oppression. This includes places like Syria, China, India, and Sudan. Missionaries going into these regions face opposition from governments and militant groups. The threat is not just for those who spread the Gospel, but even greater for those who accept it.
2. They’re difficult to access
Google Maps won’t get you to many of these people. They live off the beaten path. In Nepal, where less than 1% of people know Christ, many villages are difficult to reach due to the nation’s limited infrastructure. Likewise, the unreached Bedouin tribes in the Middle East have purposely settled far from large urban centers. To make matters worse, they’re constantly moving around. It’s hard enough to track them down, much less get to them.
3. Many Christians don’t want to reach them.
As shocking as this may sound, often our prejudices get in the way. There is no stronger example of this than with Islam-background peoples. Over 85% reside in unreached communities. Sadly, some Christians deal with fear, misunderstanding, or even hatred that keeps them from viewing Muslims the way Christ does. They’d rather avoid them than engage them with the Gospel.
4. There aren’t enough people in the game.
Simply put, we need more people to embrace this call to the unreached. The vast majority of Christian resources are directed to places where the Gospel is already taking hold. Less than 1% is designated towards the most unreached parts of the world. There is a dire need for more Christians to pray for them, offer financial support, and go. If the Church won’t step out of its comfort zone, these people will die without hearing about Jesus.
Despite all of this, the Gospel is still moving forward and exciting things are beginning to happen. The turmoil of the Middle East is driving many unreached communities into parts of Europe and North America where they can be exposed to the story of Jesus. As they return home, they are planting new churches in their native communities. Some might even be closer than you think. Meanwhile, e3 Partners and other organizations are teaching new believers in these communities how to share the Gospel and multiply. We just have to seize the opportunities.
Here’s the bottom line – to be unreached is to be without Christ. It means an entire culture is missing out on the greatest story ever told. It’s a reality we cannot accept. But the good news is that the Gospel isn’t bound by political influence, war, or cultural obstacles. It doesn’t bow down to these things. It transforms them.
None of these obstacles are insurmountable. It just means it’s time to step up.