“Missions” is one of the most abused words in Christianity today. We speak of missions in a sense that has convoluted both its intent and purpose. In an average church today, you will find almost no distinction between reaching those who have access to the gospel (“reached”) and those who do not (“unreached”). Let me explain the difference.
Defining the Reached and Unreached
According to The Caleb Project, there is at least one church in every political nation of the world. But when Jesus commanded us to “make disciples of all nations,” is this what He meant?
“So when the term nation is used in the Bible, it means different ethnic groups…”
Our confusion over missions stems from a misunderstanding of what “nations” means. The Greek word ethnos and the Hebrew word gôy had specific meanings. We get the English word ethnic from ethnos. Ethnic groups are defined by language, culture, and geographical location; but it does not refer to a political nation. So when the term nation is used in the Bible, it means different ethnic groups (usually ethnic groups outside of ethnic Jewish descent).
While there are over 200 socio-political nations in the world, The Joshua Project tells us that there are 16,010 ethnic groups. You will often hear the term ethnic groups used synonymously with “people groups.” A reached people group has is traditionally definition as being a group that has at least 2% evangelical Christians and a self-replicating church. An unreached group will have neither of these characteristics. The unreached have no access to the gospel.
When Jesus says, “make disciples of all nations,” He is asking us to find representatives from each people group. We will examine this more in the second and third parts of this series.
The Joshua Project has currently identified 16,010 people groups throughout God’s creation. Of those people groups, 6,782 are still unreached (42.4%). These people groups include 2.51 billion people, which is 39% of the world’s population. Most of the unreached (95%) live in an area called “The 10/40 Window,” which is a box from 10 and 40 degrees above the equator, spanning from North Africa to Asia.
“…only 8% of the world’s cross-cultural Christian missionaries are reaching the unreached!”
There are even more staggering statistics: only 8% of the world’s cross-cultural Christian missionaries are reaching the unreached! So 92% of all the world’s Christian missionaries are, in the language of Paul, “build[ing] on another man’s foundation” (Romans 15:20). The Traveling Team states that of those building on another man’s foundation, 74% of them are witnessing to nominal Christians! They are leaving behind the Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, unreligious, and those with other expressions of religious thought.
“…the church worldwide grosses over 12.3 trillion dollars and, of that, less than 1% goes into reaching the unreached!”
Lastly, the church worldwide grosses over 12.3 trillion dollars and, of that, less than 1% goes into reaching the unreached! Something is drastically wrong in our current approach to missions.
Because of the lack of progress we are making in reaching the nations, I feel it necessary to make the definition of missions specific, not ambiguous. Missions is the act of reaching the unreached. This means that when we are reaching out to peoples that already have a 2% evangelical population and a self-replicating church movement, we are doing evangelism and not missions. Keep in mind that of the 6,782 unreached people groups in God’s creation, only 24 are in the United States, which amounts to .004% of the worlds unreached. Almost all of our evangelistic efforts in the U.S. would not fit this definition of missions.
The Biblical Basis for Missions
Many Christians believe that when Jesus spoke in Matthew 28 about making disciples of all the nations (people groups) that the Great Commission started right then, but when we look farther back, we see that the purpose and intent of God of seeing His name exalted throughout all of His creation started back in Genesis 1!
The second and third parts of this series are going to be a survey of God’s intent with His creation, from Genesis to Revelation. When we look clearly at the biblical record of God’s working with man, we will see that when Jesus spoke of reaching the nations in Matthew 28, He was simply restating a truth that had been told for 4,000 years.
“‘For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,’ says the LORD of hosts.”
— Malachi 1:11 (author’s emphasis)