This is an article from the May-June 1995 issue: A Church Planting Movement Within Every People

A Passion for the Unreached Peoples

A Passion for the Unreached Peoples

First I want to share my convictions concerning unreached peoples: When the Lord Jesus Christ gave us the commission to make disciples of all peoples (Matt 28:19), he gave us a measurable and finishable task. We are therefore obligated to both research the need, however complex, and to seek to make disciples of every people as speedily as possible. That is what I live for and that is why I am engaged in my present ministry. My concern is that consistently from Acts 2 onwards Christians have marginalized, shelved or ignored this passion in the heart of our Master: that He may see the reward of His sufferings - the redeemed from every race, tribe, people and tongue. We must therefore do everything we can to make that vision the vision of the Church worldwide. Secondly, we, as believers today, stand at the threshold of the attainment of that goal. A century ago there was great enthusiasm among Evangelicals for the completion of world evangelization in their generation, but despite a huge effort and major mobilization of missionaries the widespread vision to "Bring back the King" before the turn of the century never was realized. They had not fully grasped the enormity of the task they had committed themselves to. Therefore there is today a caution about commitment to such a goal - but in the AD2000 and Beyond Movement we have made that commitment. Are we foolish? Probably. Are we going to be disappointed too? Probably - unless we sacrificially commit ourselves to work together in a common over-arching strategy.

That we have both the information and also the resources to see the beginning of the end by the end of this Millennium in 5 years time. My question is rather, do we have a deep faith in God, His enabling grace and a willingness to pay the price for this to be achieved?

A Brief History of Unreached People Thinking

Just over two hundred years ago two world-changing events took place - the French Revolution and the launch of the modern missions movement. The first brought political ideology to the fore which eclipsed the preceding centuries of dominance of ethnicity and religious conformity and gave us a range of new terms - colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, Communism, secularism. The second brought the gospel to a world in ferment with new ideas, new political systems and the modern nation-state. This time of change and upheaval became fertile soil for the rapid spread of the Gospel over these 200 years. Church growth has accelerated over this period. The last 30 years have been the most dramatic, but the last 10 years of this period even more so.

However the dominance of the nation-state over these 200 years appears to be ending. The collapse of Communism as a viable and persuasive system in 1989 was the most dramatic evidence of this. Ideologies have lost their luster. The power of ethnic nationalism and ethno-religious intolerance is daily portrayed in the media. The Kurdish question, the ethnic dismemberment of Yugoslavia, the USSR and possibly even Russia itself, the Somalia and Rwanda debacles, the wars in Sri Lanka, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Myanmar, guerrilla insurgency in Northern Ireland and Mexico are all evidence of this. We have to recognize these realities. For too long we have been locked into thinking in terms of countries and geographical boundaries because this is the way the world has been. We have to think ethnically and globally in our strategy for the evangelization of the world.

This change in thinking has come too slowly and has limited our effectiveness in missions. In the 1930s came the beginnings of change. In that period Cameron Townsend founded Wycliffe Bible Translators with the tremendous vision to give the New Testament to every language group on earth that needed it. In my own agency WEC International we began speaking of remaining unevangelized peoples. Then came the massive growth of ministries such as Gospel Recordings, the Bible Societies, multi-lingual radio ministries and more recently, a number of ministries with a strong ethnic or linguistic emphasis - such as the "Jesus" film of Campus Crusade, and missions such as Frontiers. The single most significant event to publicize the need of Unreached Peoples was the Lausanne Congress in 1974 where Ralph Winter put out a call for the Hidden Peoples of the world. This decisively changed the orientation of the growing edge of missions thinking towards that of ethno-linguistic peoples.

It has taken us 20 years from that point to bring some order and understanding to the ethnic and linguistic complexities of our world. For years we have struggled over definitions - what do we mean by an Unreached People, which are unreached, and where are they? We have also struggled over information - we do not have a complete analysis of languages or peoples and their spiritual need. For years many have pled with researchers to provide a list of the unreached peoples of the world. We are closer to achieving this now. I believe we have broken through to a more effective way of analyzing the peoples of the world that helps in developing the broad strokes of strategy and indicating how the smaller details can be refined at a more local level. This underlies what I share below.


John Gilbert has done us good service by preparing a superb and up-to- date synthesis of all definitions relating to world evangelization. I suggest that you refer to this document for the terminology I use here. There are several important points I must make to add to this list.

Affinity Bloc. This is a new term I coined to help us understand in simpler terms a highly intricate subject and provide a foundation for developing meaningful strategies. It is a purely pragmatic way of dividing up the world's least reached into groups of peoples that have significant commonalities which have to be considered when planning their evangelization. For years we have tried to produce a linear list of the world's unreached peoples in the nations of the world, but confusion over the details prevented publication. When I began to group the peoples of the world by language and culture and only then by country did I see that nearly all the least reached peoples of the world could be included in just 12 such blocs. All of them have their main geographical location in or near the 10/40 Window.

An AFFINITY BLOC is composed of one or more ethno-linguistic families of people that have other commonalities of religion, culture, history, politics and geography which have also to be considered in planning their evangelization and discipling.

This does not imply that the peoples comprising an affinity bloc perceive any affinity or hold the dominant cultures in any esteem. Nor does it necessarily follow that a Gospel breakthrough will necessarily result in other peoples being likewise affected. Within each Affinity Bloc are one or more Gateway Peoples which may more fit this possibility. Here I have listed the 12 Affinity Blocs and the provisional numbers from the database on which I am working. By GCOWE 95, these numbers could be somewhat increased through the suggestions from other researchers. These Affinity Blocs represent a strategic starting point and may be increased in number or slightly differently classified. Please note that these numbers also include migrant communities in other countries across the world. There are a further 120 or so unreached peoples I know which are not related to the above affinity blocs.

The Progress in reaching the Unreached 1790-1995 The actual discipling of the world's peoples has been a slow process, but the rate of increase in the number of discipled peoples has markedly increased in the last few years. The diagram shows you this increase in very approximate terms which does help to show that our minimal goal of a church planting movement launched by 2001 is not so impossible. Note also the rapid increase in the number of ethno- linguistic peoples in the last 30 years - almost entirely due to the multiplication of communities migrating from poorer to richer parts of the world - which, incidentally, often means peoples from these 12 Affinity Blocs migrating to countries far from the 10/40 Window.

Let me give you a few examples of peoples who have become reached in recent years. Africa - 120 years ago David Livingstone was still exploring the

center of Africa. West Africa was still rightly called The White Man's Grave. Of Africa's then 2,500 peoples, only a handful of coastal peoples had congregations of evangelical believers. Today only a handful of peoples in West, Central and Southern Africa have no believers, and no one seeking to bring the gospel to them. There remains a core of peoples in central Chad and Sudan where there is little being done to meet their spiritual need.

The Lobi of Burkina Faso in Africa's Sahel are an example of what has happened. When WEC missionaries first began outreach in 1937, there were no Christians, a strong idolatrous fetish religion held the people in bondage. Twenty years later the breakthrough had not yet come. One missionary was translating the NT into Lobi and when asked why if there was no church. His reply was a triumph of faith. Before I die there will be 3,000 believers. I left 30 relatives behind in Ireland and God promises hundredfold for those who leave families for the sake of the gospel. 100X30 = 3,000. The breakthrough came and today there is a strong, growing church and through prayer the power of the fetish gods has been broken.

The Kurds of the Middle East were little known 15 years ago--one of the largest peoples in the world without an evangelical witness. A rising prayer burden brought about change, new recruits were raised up and in various lands a witness begun. The Gulf War brought the Kurds into world news - and for the first time a concerted effort took off to bring the gospel to them, translate the Scriptures, provide radio broadcasts and win some to Christ. A Church is beginning to emerge--but still there are probably no established congregations of evangelical believers. Praise God for a multi- agency, multi-ministry partnership in existence and operating in every country in which Kurds live.

Tibetans. For two hundred years missionaries have prayed and worked for a breakthrough among the Buddhist Tibetans. After all these years there may be no more than 200 believers among them. One missionary prophesied at the turn of the century that Tibet itself would not be reached until every land surrounding it had been entered by the Lord's servants. This was not achieved until 1990. Now there are those tactfully, but determinedly seeking to make disciples of the Tibetan peoples across Central Asia. The Tibetans have not responded to the gospel, but are no longer totally unreached.

The Zhuang of China are one of the largest ethnic minorities of that land. They are Buddhist by culture and related to the Thai people. There had been relatively little done to evangelize them until recent years. They became the first people to be reached by using a non- residential missionary approach. Over the past ten years one NRM shared the vision with many agencies and a networking partnership of agencies came into being using every possible means available. The result has been significant church planting among the Zhuang. Nepal in 1960 was a closed land for the gospel. Some missions had maintained a witness along its southern border, and some Nepalis had come to Christ, but almost every one of Nepal's 80 peoples was totally unreached. Then came change, and with limited freedom and considerable persecution the Church grew. More freedom for Christians came in 1990 but by this time the Church had grown from a handful to over 100,000. Most of the ethnic groups of Nepal had yielded some disciples for the Lamb. In 30 short years that Church has grown in numbers and vision and could be one of the decisive factors for the evangelization of nearby North India.

More could be said of hundreds of other advances of the gospel in which unreached peoples have been reached. We can be encouraged by the rapid rate of deployment of workers to the remaining unreached peoples of the world. In fact it would be hard to identify more than a few dozen peoples in the world today with a population of over 100,000 where the people has no contact with Christians living among them or active efforts by Christian workers to bring the gospel to them

Our problem is not so much apportioning out thousands of unreached peoples to mission agencies, but how best to work together to most effectively reach and disciple peoples as soon as possible. For this we need a simple and effective strategic plan with which we can all identify and which intercessory networks can grasp in prayer as we seek to disciple them for Jesus.

A Strategy to Reach the Unreached We must be very clear and realistic in what we are aiming to do. We have the biblical goal: a witness to all peoples Matt 24:14.make disciples of all peoples Matt 28:19.a great multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues Rev 7:9. We then have the subordinate, but specific goal of the AD2000 and Beyond Movement : A Church for every people and the Gospel for every person Is this goal realistic with our present state of knowledge of what remains to be done? Probably not if we carry on as we have done in a piecemeal fashion. We may need to spell out more precisely what we can attain yet remain true to our commitment as a Movement. We only have 5.5 years in which to achieve it. Here is a proposal:

We commit ourselves to do all possible to ensure that by Dec. 31, 2001 there be a church-planting movement in place1 for every significant2 ethno-linguistic people3 of the world4. ,

  1. By church-planting movement we mean that there be either an indigenous church/body of churches or an ex-patriate agencies or both deployed for the purpose of planting churches. The gospel breakthroughs needed will only come through the Holy Spirit in answer to prayer, but we need to be obedient in proclaiming the Spirit-given Word. As a minimum our aim should be the planting of at least one live, growing, missions-minded congregation of believers, but the maximum should be saturation church planting with a congregation of Bible-believing Christians within reachable distance of every person in that people.
  2. By significant we mean that every people in its main home area be the primary target. Many of our listed peoples are actually demographic offshoots separated by imposed political borders or migrant communities in foreign lands and as such may not be as significant as those living in the heartland of their culture. In practical terms this may mean all peoples of over 10,000 or, in some cases over 1,000 in population.
  3. By ethno-linguistic we limit our listing to the major and unique distinctives of language and ethnicity rather than sociological categories. Each person in a country would therefore be counted only once, and all totals of constituent peoples would equal the country population.
  4. By world we include all peoples of whatever country or race, but in practical terms over 95% of the least evangelized peoples of the world have their cultural origins in the 10/40 Window.

A Proposed Strategy For The Next Five Years. All AD2000 and Beyond Movement track and regional/country initiatives must be fully involved in the whole strategy. We commit ourselves to:

  1. Prayer initiatives for spiritual breakthroughs.
  2. Research and development of strategies.
  3. Action programs that this fundamental goal be attained.

Specific priorities for the achievement of this goal are to:

  1. Ensure that within 18 months of GCOWE 95 that there be a regional consultation for each of the 11 Affinity Blocs of peoples (defined by ethno-linguistic and socio-political commonalities) to co-ordinate and prioritize the reaching of every constituent people and city.
  2. Facilitate the strengthening or setting up of strategic partnerships comprising international agencies and local bodies (where such exist) for each of the most influential Gateway peoples within these affinity blocs (an estimated 130), and also to ensure that there is adequate commitment of resources to reach every other significant people and Gateway city (a selected 100 in the world) within that affinity bloc.
  3. Encourage every national AD2000 Beyond and Movement initiative to ensure that through prayer and research, every unreached ethno- linguistic people be identified and a church planting initiative launched by the year 2001.

Elaboration of the priorities

Strategies for the Affinity Blocs There needs to be an affinity Bloc consultation with narrow, but specific aims to supplement what, in many cases, is already in operation. There are already functioning relational structures for most of the affinity blocs in whole or in part (Arab world, Kurdish and Iranian networks, Turkic consultations, Indian networks, etc.) which should be the launch bodies for any initiatives. Only where none exists should AD2000 initiatives be to the forefront. Every AD2000 Resource Network (Track) should be involved in every stage of development and planning of ministry so as to provide their unique contributions to the whole. The specific functions of such a consultation:

  1. Identify every known network and all individual initiatives of evangelical agencies and churches with present or intended ministry for reaching the constituent peoples of the affinity bloc.
  2. Arrange, at the earliest possible time, a mutually suitable date for a consultation to bring these bodies and AD2000 initiatives together.
  3. Using the AD2000 agreed lists of Gateway peoples and cities within the affinity bloc to determine which of these peoples and cities are adequately served by either a strategic or informal partnership of agencies, or where none exists, initiate action that such a partnership be launched.
  4. For commitments of resources and personnel to the untargeted 100K peoples on the AD2000 list of 700 (and smaller, if possible on the list of 2,500 unreached peoples) that are not covered by the Gateway people partnerships for both research and occupation.
  5. For commitments of adequate resources and personnel to the 100 Gateway cities on the AD2000 list.
  6. Set up a specific coordinating point or office for linking prayer networks and new agency efforts to existing initiatives, monitoring progress and setting up an evaluation consultation during 1999/2000 to ensure that there are no failures or gaps where specific peoples remain unoccupied.
  7. Submit a report by June 30, 2000 to the AD2000 office and URP or City Resource Network and the AD2000 national initiatives within the area covered reporting the status of all peoples on the list of 2,500 URPs and 100 Gateway cities .

Gateway People Strategic Partnerships

  1. For those of the 130 Gateway peoples which already have a strategic partnership or informal network, each should be strengthened and encouraged to ensure that each component people or family of peoples is adequately covered by prayer, planning for occupation or with a church planting movement already in place by Dec. 1996. It may prove necessary to have more than one strategic partnership where ethno-linguistic or geographical complexity requires it.
  2. For those Gateway peoples without an effective strategic partnership that steps be taken to bring interested bodies together to discuss such. The assistance of Interdev could be a vital component of this in providing training or coordination.
  3. For each strategic partnership to submit a report on progress to the affinity bloc coordinating point by Dec. 31, 1999.

National initiatives

In many countries there are already existing bodies - Evangelical Alliances, Lausanne Committees, DAWN/SCP initiatives and so on. Wherever such exist, the AD2000 and Beyond Movement should play a supportive and catalytic role.

  1. Each national AD2000 and Beyond Movement entity within each country work together with any national body with an interest in research and analysis of the cities and peoples less reached with the gospel with the specific priority of analyzing every indigenous and immigrant ethno-linguistic people as to their need for a new or fresh church planting movement. Note that most countries in the world have significant communities of migrants from the 11 Affinity Bloc of peoples). Note also that these national efforts will predominate over the above two steps where there is already a significant Christian presence.
  2. Each Strategic Partnership for Gateway Peoples to work closely with national initiatives for the most effective evangelization of migrant communities of their specific peoples.
  3. Each national initiative to update and add to the existing official list of 2500 unreached peoples where necessary, and submit these changes to the Unreached Peoples Track/AAP Clearinghouses, Research track, and the AD2000 office annually to ensure momentum in prayer and mobilization of resources to cover all peoples by the year 2001.


The aim of the above overall strategy is to ensure that:

  1. There is adequate coverage of every unreached people from two directions - international/transnational and national through the Gateway Peoples and National Initiatives. Obviously the weaker the national church is, the more the reliance there will be on international ministries.
  2. There are sufficient monitoring mechanisms to ensure commitment of prayer and resources to the launching of church planting movements within the five year period before us.
  3. There be the final information gathered about the degree of success in achieving our goals. Ultimately the ONLY AD2000 goal that is relatively easily measurable is that of a church planting movement initiated in every people of the world. So it is vital that much of our combined efforts be made to the achievement of this minimum goal. That the gospel be made available for every person this is the first requirement. From this will follow the need for Saturation Church Planting, Bible translation, literacy programs, leadership training, etc.

We have a marvelous opportunity to see the job done in our lifetime. Let it not fail through our own failures!


There are no comments for this entry yet.

Leave A Comment

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.