Why We Must Reclaim the Meaning of 'the Unreached'

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Your neighbor across the street does not believe in Jesus.

Your brother-in-law is still unsaved, though he has repeatedly been presented with the gospel.

Your church has an outreach to Haiti, with a full-time couple serving there.

Though none of the people referenced here have come to faith in Christ, contrary to popular thinking among many Christians they are not "unreached."

How is this so and why does this matter? The short and simple answer relates to gospel access and opportunity, and the church's mission.

Just because someone does not believe the gospel does not mean they are unreached. "Unreached peoples" are actually those who have no opportunity to hear the gospel at all. They don't have a chance because they don't have a Jesus follower nearby to explain the good news of Christ to them. In most instances there is no church, no Bible, and no way of hearing about the love of God and His redeeming work through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

To better understand who are considered reached and who are not, we can divide the 7.6 billion inhabitants of the world into four segments:

Reached and Saved (11%). These are Christians who believe in the Bible as God's Word and have received by faith alone the gracious atoning work of Jesus on their behalf. Approximately 1 billion people across the planet fall within this category.

Reached but not Saved (23%). They have some knowledge of the gospel but with no or nominal acceptance. They are "Christians" by tradition rather than by conviction. They have access to the gospel – it is all around them – without believing it. About 1.7 billion people are in this category.

Under-reached and Unsaved (33%). They have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel, although it is nearby. They have some access to the gospel through various means, such as a nearby believer, through media, or the internet, but it is woefully sparse. About 2.5 billion people around the world fall within this category.

Unreached and Unsaved (33%). They sadly have no witnessing community within their people group or in their geographic area – no access to the gospel. They have no opportunity to hear, no chance to believe. Tragically, 2.5 billion people fall within this category and it's increasing every year.

It is calculated that there are 6,926 unreached people groups scattered across the world. Some of them consist of large ethnic blocks of millions of people. Others are small groups of under 10,000, together totaling less than 8 million individuals. But all have no access to the gospel.

These gospel-deprived individuals must be seen with compassion on the personal level. Not only do they not believe in Jesus but they do not know there is a Jesus to believe in. That opportunity has been denied them.

What are the implications to us who are compelled to follow Jesus' command to bring lost souls to faith in Jesus? It means that gospel messengers are needed to either go and personally witness or use means that will. This can be done by way of personal encounters, broadcasts, podcasts, printed material, recordings, films, blogs, electronic communications, and many other innovative means that are channels of penetrating witness.

The previously mentioned non-believing neighbor, the brother-in-law, and even the Haitians – 20 percent of whom are Protestant – all have access to the gospel and have opportunity to believe in Jesus. Just because they are indifferent, unresponsive, or resistant does not mean they are unreached. They each have a chance to understand their spiritual plight and need of a Savior. The good news is within their reach.

But the 2.5 billion gospel-deprived "Unreached and Unsaved" do not have any of these advantages. They are unaware, clueless, and hopeless, without a chance of hearing the gospel message even if they so desired. The good news is not within their reach.

Only by reclaiming the real meaning of "unreached" will the church grasp the size of the challenge that still lies before us in responding to Jesus' Great Commission, and be inspired to commit to its fulfillment.

This is why the International Day for the Unreached on May 20, 2018 is so important: prompting the church to be true to Christ's command to reach the lost ... striving to make the gospel accessible to all peoples ... providing those who have not heard, the opportunity to respond ... focusing on making the unreached, the reached.

Marv Newell is Senior Vice President of Missio Nexus, a network of evangelical mission agencies, churches and training centers in North America. Marv is also an adjunct professor at Moody Theological Seminary. Previously, he served as a missionary in Papua, Indonesia, and he and his wife have been involved in missions for 40 years.