A few years ago I attended a missions conference in a local Detroit-area church. Proudly, the church leaders introduced one of their own families, newly appointed missionaries, and invited them to share their call to missions. I, along with most in that church building, immediately fell in love with that family. They were young, wholesome, eager to get out there.
Then they spoke. To summarize, they were going to an over-evangelized country in Africa, where more than half the population were already evangelical Christians. Yes, there was a small Muslim minority in the country, but this family was not going to them. It seems they had visited this country. They noticed the church there did not look like their home church in Detroit. They had dedicated themselves to fixing the national church in that country. I felt like crying! Instead of reaching those who did not know Christ, they were going with the intention of turning African Christians into American fundamentalists.
You’ve heard terms like unevangelized, unreached, least-reached, unengaged.
These terms, and the mission strategies behind them, were developed in recent decades to help the Western church better focus people and resources in areas where the need was greatest. Along with these definitions came strategies such as the 10/40 Window, 40/60 Window, and specialized strategies for Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists.
It worked! No, these strategies did not bring universal evangelism, but we did see more work being done in these areas. And not just more work, but great results in terms of people coming to faith in Christ and new churches being established within those groups.
Isn’t that what it’s all about?
Consider these few passages from the New Testament (underlining and emphasis added by this writer).
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:36)
The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:13-14)
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)
You [Jesus] are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9-10)
What’s the bottom line?
Definitions and strategies are tools we use to accomplish a task. That task, as identified in the above passage from Matthew, is to take the message of God’s salvation in Christ to every identifiable group of people around the world. The results of that task are described in the Revelation passage, where we’re told that Jesus died for every tribe and language group, and people group, and national group.
It makes additional sense to direct the bulk of our efforts towards those who need it most, that is, the unreached, under-reached, least-reached, etc.
Call them unreached or just plain lost, it doesn’t matter. It’s not about words. It’s about us, the church, focusing our resources on those groups of people who will not be reached with the gospel unless someone crosses those ethnic, linguistic, geographical, religious, and/or political boundaries and communicates God’s word in ways they can understand and to which they can make a valid response Jesus Christ.