But in the 45 years since the late US Center for World Mission founder Ralph Winter popularized the concept—spurring maps, checklists, and stats toward a new goal—missiologists have begun to update their terminology for targeting the unevangelized, with some rethinking the “people groups” idea altogether.
The labels are not just a matter of semantics; if too broad or too narrow, they fail to identify the people who are most desperate for the gospel and won’t accurately capture the church’s progress toward making disciples of all nations.
Critics of the traditional definition of an unreached group, one where evangelicals make up less than 2 percent of the population, note that it ends up including peoples at disparate ends of a spectrum: some that already have a strong Christian presence, and others that have almost no exposure to the gospel. “Unreached people groups with no believers among them will not receive the witnesses they need if they are not clearly distinguished from those with thousands of believers,” wrote missionary and scholar Rebecca Lewis, Winter’s daughter, in the International Journal of Frontier Missiology last year.
Plus, “there is now significant status associated with mission efforts among unreached people groups,” said Robby Butler, general director of Missions Network. “This translates into prayer and financial support for such efforts, so no one wants their people classified as reached.”
Missions experts agree that the categories could be more precise, with some opting to focus on “unengaged unreached people groups,” those that are less than 2 percent evangelical and have no existing missionary efforts among them.
Evangelizing “unreached people groups” has mobilized Christians for decades.
But does that term still work anymore? https://t.co/yS7Z3AiBvf
— Christianity Today (@CTmagazine) May 9, 2019