Increasing Momentum for Unreached People Groups



The Bengali
of Bangladesh

Momentum is a term from physics, defined as “the property of a moving body that the body has by virtue of its mass and motion, equal to the product of the body’s mass and velocity, determining the length of time required to bring it to rest when under the action of a constant force.”

Simply stated, it is the number which describes the likelihood that an object will continue moving in one direction. It measures the ease by which an object can be stopped or changed. It is defined as the mass (weight) of an object multiplied by its velocity. The greater the mass or the speed, the greater its momentum. The greater the momentum, the harder it is to change and the more likely the moving mass will change whatever gets in the way.

What, you might be asking, does this have to do with mission? Well, it’s not just balls or rocks that have momentum. Movements of people (like the movement to reach unreached peoples) can gain (or lose) momentum.

For the past two decades, unreached peoples have been the focus of our attention. As a result, the effort to bring the gospel to these individuals and communities has gained significant momentum. Recently, however, I’ve heard comments that put this momentum in jeopardy. People are expressing their dissatisfaction with the emphasis on the unreached and see it as a fad or a marketing ploy. Some believe it is time to focus on other people groups or missions projects.

Let’s think about what the terms unreached and unevangelized mean. To be un- something can be either our own fault or the result of someone else’s action. Reaching or evangelizing means to build on what God has been doing since the dawn of history. Jesus commanded his followers to preach, baptize and make disciples. Have we, the church, obeyed this command?

Unevangelized concerns the first part of this command—to preach the gospel. If someone has not heard the gospel message, it is because that person has not yet been told. In nearly every case, this is not the individual’s fault. If the person has heard the good news, he or she can choose to accept or reject. The editors of the World Christian Encyclopedia estimate at least 27% of the world has yet to hear the gospel. That equates to 1.8 billion people. Although this number is shrinking, the actual number of unevangelized people is growing due to population growth. By 2025, it is projected that there will be over two billion people unevangelized.

Unreached deals with the last part of the command—to make disciples. An unreached people was defined by a Lausanne-convened group of researchers as “a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group without requiring outside (cross-cultural) assistance.” To be reached, a significant number must have been discipled and must now be reaching out to the remainder of the group.

There is no formula for measuring how many disciples are enough. Certainly every majority-unevangelized group is likely also unreached. Groups that are majority-Christian receive more than 90% of all Christian missionary effort, literature, broadcasting and pastors. We could say these groups are reached without saying the task is finished. Reached simply means that the indigenous church has the resources to finish the task. Lists from the International Mission Board (IMB) and Joshua Project agree that roughly 40% of the world is unreached.

This is why the concepts of unreached and unevangelized are not fads. They will not go away until the task is finished. To say we should stop focusing on unreached areas is to say we should not do what Jesus commanded. He called us to evangelize and disciple the whole world.

This is not a matter of triumphalism or believing that once the world is evangelized Jesus will come back. He simply gave us a job to do. Those passionate about the unevangelized are holding the church accountable to this task.

The reality is that the majority of cross-cultural missionaries are still focused on areas largely claiming to be Christian: Protestants evangelizing Catholics, Catholics evangelizing Orthodox and everyone evangelizing marginals. Less than 10% are focused on places traditionally thought to be non-Christian or anti-Christian. Areas with large un evangelized regions include Russia, China, India, Northern Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Shouldn’t our resources be used in these areas?

Those passionate about the frontiers of mission are focused on increasing our momentum to the unevangelized in six areas:

Drive is direction and passion. It can be a passage cleared for travel, activities taken to achieve a goal, active strength of body or mind or the willingness to engage in a daring or difficult activity. To be driven is to be following a path with passion.

Energy is the capacity for action. It is the vigorous exertion of power, the ability to do work or the resources to produce work. Someo ne with energy has power, vigor and fuel to carry them forward.

Effort is energy used. We spend energy on evangelism, church planting, discipleship, and transformation of people into the likeness of Christ. We don’t want to focus on unreached peoples forever—we want to see the task finished!

Inspiration is a change created by an unexpected introduction of energy. It is the spark of life, the motivating force and the ability to help low-momentum people begin a task.

Power comes through self-control. It can be physical, mental, moral or political. A powerful movement is unified, led and disciplined and is built through patience, gentleness and focus.

Strength is the opposite of effort. It is the ability to resist force or attack by staying the course and not spending effort on distractions. We build strength in order to persevere in times of trial.

Leaders need to encourage, exhort, educate and exchange ideas if these six areas are to be mastered. Several events are helping us do this. Secure communications facilitate the exchange of ideas and lists of unreached peoples are now available from the World Christian Database, IMB and the Joshua Project. Other resources include new prayer guides detailing unreached peoples in Asia and a soon-to-be launched magazine that will focus exclusively on the unreached.

Additionally, participants in recent conferences (including the 1999 Global Christian Roundtable, Singapore 2002, the 2004 Lausanne Forum and TransformWorld Indonesia) agreed on the idea of a global consultation of unreached peoples. The conference will be held in Southeast Asia next year. Due to space limitations, a maximum of 650 people will be invited. You can learn more by visiting (See related story on Ethne 06)

Justin Long manages and is senior editor for Momentum, a magazine devoted to unreached peoples. He can be reached at [email protected].