An unreached people group is a term most frequently used to define any ethnic or linguistically distinct culture that does not have a history of Christianity. Hudson Taylor, one of the greatest missionaries all of time, was devoted to the unreached people group of China. Mr. Taylor arrived at China in 1854 and it’s estimated that he led more people to Christ than any other single person since the Apostle Paul. Estimates state that the number of Christians in China in the 1960s was about 5000, while current estimates place the number at or near 100 million, so to say Christianity is growing overseas would be an understatement; however, much work is left to be done to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus.(Matthew 28:19-20) The Joshua Project, a website designed to identify the unreached people groups of the world, lists the Shaikh people of Bangladesh, with a population of 131,167,000 as the largest unreached group. There are many wonderful organizations and churches that equip and train brave missionaries all around the world to go into various countries like Bangladesh to reach the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a daunting task and there are more than 6,600 unreached people groups throughout the world.
With this in mind, consider the following results from the year end research released by The Barna Group, granted I’m not sure of the benefit the Christian church has with such demographics, nor do I completely agree with their surveying methods, but it does provide something of a baseline for religious beliefs in America. Their polling data produced the following results:
Most self-identified Christians are comfortable with the idea that the Bible and the sacred books from non-Christian religions all teach the same truths and principles
71% say they will develop their own slate of religious beliefs rather than accept a package of beliefs promoted by a church or denomination
Barely one-third of self-identified Christians (36%) strongly agree that it is important for followers of Christ to maintain positive relationships with people who are not Christians
Only one-third (34%) believe in absolute moral truth
Two-thirds of adults (64%) are willing to experience and express their faith in new or different environments or structures than they have in the past
68% of self-identified Christians have heard of spiritual gifts, a decline in the past decade; a minority (roughly one-third) can actually identify a biblical spiritual gift they claim to possess
Just half of all self-identified Christians firmly believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles (not the facts, just the principles) that it teaches
And finally the following summary analysis from Barna:
“Bible reading has become the religious equivalent of sound-bite journalism. When people read from the Bible they typically open it, read a brief passage without much regard for the context, and consider the primary thought or feeling that the passage provided. If they are comfortable with it, they accept it; otherwise, they deem it interesting but irrelevant to their life, and move on. There is shockingly little growth evident in people’s understanding of the fundamental themes of the scriptures and amazingly little interest in deepening their knowledge and application of biblical principles.”
Current estimates place the number of people identifying themselves as “Christian” within America at 76%. With a population of about 305 million the estimated number of “Christians” in the U.S. is roughly 232 million. Now let’s attempt to extrapolate the data from Barna, granted it is all over the place, but still seems to indicate among those polled, not only a strong lack of Biblical knowledge, but a complete misconception of a Biblical worldview and Christian ideals. Some of you might disagree in one direction or another, but let’s conservatively estimate that based on responses to Barna’s polling 35% of people identifying themselves as Christians, may in fact not be. You may or may not agree with that percentage, but keep this in mind, the number (66%) of those who don’t believe in absolute moral truth would’ve been a more than fair percentage to use. Regardless, using our 35% figure and working through the math again, we get an arguably conservative number of 81 million Americans who identify themselves as Christian, but more than likely are not, or at least have no idea what the Christian life entails. It may be fair to use this same 35% on a world-wide scale for the estimated 2.1 billion Christians. This would put our figure at 735 million. Even if this estimate is grossly overstated and we lowered our estimated number of people who identify themselves as Christians but may not be, to 10%, that still gives us 210 million people world-wide who think they are Christians, but most likely are not.
Frankly, this is an alarming and frightening figure, but let’s be reminded of the words of Jesus, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” Matthew 7:20-22 ESV If we related this to our modern time a similar argument might be “Didn’t we walk the aisle, teach Sunday School, read the Bible sometimes, and even pray to You?”
Drawing back to the unreached people groups, it’s extremely important to maintain vigilance in sending and supporting missionaries who risk their lives to bring the Gospel to the lost groups of the world. However, at the same time, it’s equally imperative that those of us who remain at “home” do not assume that our family, friends, or fellow church goers know Christ as their personal Savior, simply because they were raised religious, believe they are good, or have perhaps answered an altar call, but instead lack any semblance of saving faith. We must share the Gospel with everyone we can in order to build up the Body of Christ “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:12-13 ESV The unreached people groups are lost, those who believe they are saved but actually aren’t have a false security, is one group any more prepared for judgement than the other?
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-unless indeed you are disqualified.” II Corinthians 13: 5
“the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Romans 8:16 ESV
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:1-11 ESV