If the people of a certain region, ethnicity, and language have never heard the gospel, they are unreached. Yet in a practical sense, even people who have heard the gospel are not “reached,” or evangelized, if no gospel witness is established among them. A foreigner’s brief visit is not enough; they have no churches in their communities and no Scripture in their language. That means they do not understand the gospel, or know what they’re missing, or know where to look for it.
The Apostle Paul’s work was finished in an area when churches were established (Romans 10:20-23). That didn’t mean that everyone in the region had heard the gospel, but the people group was reached because a gospel witness was established among them. Though mission work takes many forms, nothing is more central to the missionary task than reaching the unreached.
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14). The Greek word for “nations” is ethnos, from which we get our term “ethnic.” One definition of the term in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon is, “a tribe, nation, people group.” The concept for missions is that an ethnos is a group of people bound by language or dialect, culture, and other characteristics that mark them as part of that specific group that stands apart from others.
People groups are important because Jesus tells us here that a gospel witness will be planted in every ethnos before He returns. Therefore, a major goal of missions is to place a viable gospel witness into every group – a witness that they can understand and which gives people a workable opportunity to hear, comprehend, and accept the gospel.
According to Wikipedia, “An unreached people group refers to an ethnic group without an indigenous, self-propagating Christian church movement. Any ethnic or ethnolinguistic nation without enough Christians to evangelize the rest of the nation is an ‘unreached people group.’”
The Shaikh people of South Asia are just one example. Over 135 million people spread throughout six different countries have no visible Christian witness within their culture. Primarily Muslim in faith, these people will live and die never encountering even one Christian. While the Bible has been translated into their language of Bengali, they need Christians willing to share and live out the gospel.
Unreached people groups are important because they matter to God. It is not His will that any perish but that all come to repentance. Without a Christian witness, many of these people will forever be lost. Will you pray that God’s light will come to their darkness?
The Joshua Project defines an unreached people group as one "among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group without outside assistance.” Unreached people groups do not yet have enough indigenous Christians to maintain a self-sustaining church and to do the work of evangelism without mission help. The Joshua Project lists nearly 7000 people groups that are still unreached.
Why is evangelism of unreached people groups important? No reason is more basic than Jesus’command, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Matt 28:19). No motivation is more exciting than John’s vision, "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands” (Rev 7:9).
For some, “unreached” means the gospel has never been shared with them. For others, it means they have been “somewhat reached” with the gospel. Either way, they are lost. They are headed toward hell.
They are important, first of all, because they are made in God’s image. That is most important. To have His image marred saddens God. Secondly, they are important because Christ died for them. He gave His all that they might have eternal life. Such total giving shows their importance. Thirdly, they are going somewhere to spend eternity.
In this arena, there are only two options: heaven or hell. We need to work our hardest, our best to bring them into the “knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Without Him, they are lost . . . lost for eternity. Let us open “The Way” for them.