There have been some conversations floating around lately about the definition of "unreached." While there has been some general broad consensus about the concept of "unreached" in the missions community, "the devil is in the details." Dave Datema wrote up an excellent (wish I'd written it) piece on the history of the concept.

This morning, I'm thinking of peoples and places in terms of "situations of reachedness" rather than "unreached status."

There are four different considerations which factor in to all the major measures of reached/unreached: engagement, % of population with access to the Gospel (evangelization), % Christian, and % evangelical. This boils down to four major questions:

  • Are there any workers among the group at all?
  • Are they successfully bringing the Gospel to a large enough section of the population (ideally, 100% of the population has access)
  • Are people responding in some way, professing to be Christians? (% Christian)
  • Are people truly integrating Christianity into their lives - is it transforming them - are they living out their faith? (% evangelical)

None of the measures that we have for these four questions are perfect. In many instances, the measures are only correlations. But imperfect as they are, they let us see populations in different situations. I haven't done it (yet), but I theorize you could graph countries, places and peoples according to two of these factors - % Christian and % evangelical - and the "clusters of dots" on the graph would likely clump into five basic areas:

Situation A - segments that are largely unengaged. These would be low % Christian, low % evangelical - almost zero. There are many places and peoples that are insufficiently engaged with workers for the vast majority to hear. (1 team per million, for example, is not exactly adequate engagement.) I'm thinking of Afghanistan and Somalia.

Situation B - segments that have significant work and maybe even moderate access but little response. These would likely be < 5% Christian and < 2% evangelical, but the numbers would be fairly close to each other. I'm thinking of some of the situations in India and Turkey.

Situation C - >5%, <50% Christian, >2% evangelical: moderately large Christian populations with fast growth, forming a significant minority or maybe even slim majority of a place or people. There's work, it's moving, it's not yet complete. I'm thinking of the Han Chinese and the Koreans.

Situation D - high % Christian, moderately high % evangelical. As I write this blog post, I can't think off the top of my head of any place that is more than 50% evangelical. But there are some that are more than 25% evangelical. I'm thinking of the United States.

Situation E - high % Christian, very low % evangelical. I'm thinking of Europe.

Situation A is obviously and clearly "unreached" by any measure. Situation B is usually considered to be "unreached" as well. In Situation C, we start to enter a bit of a gray zone because of the competing ideas about the definitions. Considering Korea is the second largest missionary sender in the world--but Korean Christians are still a minority of South Korea--are they reached or not? What about the Han Chinese? Situation D and E are usually considered "reached" - but I confess we argue about this. I think we argue about it a little more genteely these days, but we argue about it anyway.

Another approach, rather than arguing about where we should send workers, is to consider the kind of workers that ought to be sent. These "situations" could then be assessed for the "kind" of Christian work needed. Situations D and E mostly call for E-0 evangelism, with some specialized agencies supporting them. Situation C probably calls for E-0 and E-1 evangelism. Situations A and B likely call for E-2 and E-3, with desire to transition toward E-1.

A lot of times people hear the "cry for workers for the unreached" as saying that Situation A is more important than Situation E. This is not the case. God loves people in Situations A & E equally. But the Situation A is more desperate because there are few workers. And Situation A requires a different kind of workers than situation E.

People in Situations A and E are slipping into a Christless eternity at roughly the same rates of time--they are equally lost. But people in Situation A tend to slip into this state without any knowledge of the Gospel, whereas people in situation E often have significant work among them. They have an unequal chance.

When I ask for more workers for the unreached, I am not asking to take workers away from Situation E. Necessarily. I am just saying, there needs to be something of a balance between these five situations.

Are we truly adopting the mindset that there are not enough workers to go to all? That somehow, enough are called to E but not enough to A?