26 May Five Types of Unreached in Global Missions
Missionaries talk a lot about “reaching the unreached.” But who exactly are ‘the unreached?’ And where do they live? There are about as many definitions of ‘unreached’ among Christian evangelicals, as there are kitty videos on Youtube. The word ‘unreached’ is pretty ubiquitous among Christians, but what do missionaries mean when they use this word ‘unreached?” It would stand to reason that we should be clear on defining ‘unreached’, as it’s critical to defining the scope of the Great Commission given by Jesus.
What Does Unreached Mean?
Put simply, in the context of missionary work, an unreached people group is defined as having a Christian population that is too small to sizably impact their culture with the message of Christ.
Who are the Unreached?
The Joshua Project, a ministry whose mission is to create definition and unity among Christians worldwide in the task of fulfilling the Great Commission defines “unreached” in the following way: “A People group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group without outside assistance.” Because their numbers are so small, such, “unreached” peoples will need assistance from outside their culture to provide adequate access to Christian teaching. Mission thinkers suggest that the tipping point is when 2% or more of the population become Christian. It is at (or near) that point that adequate numbers of Christians exist that can reach the rest of the population. Anything less than 2% Christian and access becomes very difficult. We call those groups unreached. It must be noted however that since it’s quite difficult to get a measurement of Christians to non-Christians in any culture, statistics regarding the unreached can vary.
One useful acronym that has helped people remember the major religious categories of unreached peoples is T.H.U.M.B.. Let’s take this apart and examine each of the five categories of unreached peoples.
“T” stands for Tribal. Tribal peoples are those peoples who adhere to animistic beliefs. Animism is the belief that plants, animals, and objects have spirits. Such spirits are often viewed as gods that rule over parts of creation. Most of the tribal peoples in world are concentrated in Africa and Southeast Asia. They are very primitive peoples and live in the most remote places on earth. Often they have traditions and practices that involve appeasing certain spirits they believe can provide blessing for their people or harm.
“H” stand for Hindu. Hindu’s believe that there are thousands of gods. The source content for knowledge about Hinduism comes from books called the Vedas and Upanishads. They believe in reincarnation and karma. The majority of Hindus live in India and surrounding areas.
“U” stands for the Unreligious. This is a large category encompassing peoples whose dominant belief system is either agnosticism, meaning they do not believe in God and do not have much interest in spiritual things, or atheism; affirming a non-existence of God. China is perhaps that largest unreligious culture, although there are signs that this is changing as the thousands of Chinese have proclaimed a faith in Jesus Christ in recent decades. Many in western nations have departed from a Judeo-Christian worldview for either atheism, or agnostic beliefs.
“M” is for Muslim. Muslims believe in one God and his prophet Mohammed. The Koran is their primary source for faith and practice, but have other books that inform their faith as well like the Hadith. Islam is dominant primarily in the MiddleEast, North Africa, and in Central and South Asia. Almost 25% of the world population adheres to Islamic belief, and many scholars believe it is the fastest growing religion. Islam originated in the 7 th century in Saudi Arabia and is the youngest of the major world religions.
“B” is for Buddhist. Founded almost 2,500 years ago by Buddha. Buddhism teaches that confusion, the lack of inner peace, and stress are caused by negative states of mind. Meditation and positive thinking bring the human mind into a state of peace, joy and happiness. God is not viewed as a personality, rather, they believe God is impersonal and present within every living thing. There are an estimated 500 million adherents to Buddhism worldwide. Buddhists are found mostly in the countries of Southeast Asia like Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.
Understanding the Unreached
These five categories can help us remember, in a simple and memorable way, who the unreached are and what they believe. Use it as a prayer guide, or a simple way to educate others about the missions. Defining the scope of the Great Commission is much easier if we understand whom we are trying to reach, where they live, and how they approach spirituality.