Recently I’ve heard that the police are an unreached people group, that people with addictions are unreached, that the largest unreached people group are children under 18 years of age, etc., etc. I even heard a missions pastor say that the United States ranks 3rd among the nations in the number of unreached people living inside our borders. I hope you realize that statements like these are ridiculous. They are the result of either ignorance or deception.

The word “unreached” was coined in the work of missions to mean people or ethnic groups who do not have access to the Gospel. A person who moves to the U.S. from Somalia now has access to the Gospel. They may not yet have heard, but the opportunity to hear is available through sources such as Christian TV and radio, people they meet at work or school who are believers, the fact that churches are nearby, and in many other ways. The police who are not believers, addicts who haven’t heard about Jesus, and children who haven’t been raised in a Christian home, if living in nations where the Gospel is available, may be unsaved but should not be referred to as unreached.

The reason why blurring or confusing the term “unreached” is so critical goes back to its origin in the context of missions. It was intended to be helpful and significant in developing strategy toward completion of the Great Commission. It was to produce a sense of urgency or priority in where we go and where we send our workers. It was never intended to be the only, or exclusive, aspect of missions work. But the unreached were to become a priority in the work. So what happened?

I believe that many who were not called to work among the unreached became defensive and even negative toward the prioritization of reaching those who have never heard. I actually heard a mission leader ridicule the emphasis on the 10/40 Window while speaking at a large mission conference. When ridiculing and criticizing the priority of the unreached didn’t work, I believe there was a shift toward re-defining and confusing the term. Some of this was done out of ignorance to what the Scriptures clearly teach regarding missions, much was done in a defensive posture of people’s present ministry, and some came as a result of the enemy’s influence among the unsuspecting.

The solution to this challenge to the completion of the Great Commission is a fresh resolve to take the Gospel to where it isn’t. There are new pathways to the unreached that are exciting, inexpensive, and simple. There is no doubt that the remaining unreached people of the world are in difficult and dangerous places. But we can go, and we can win them, and we can see the knowledge of the glory of the Lord cover the earth. The question is: Will you burn away the fog of confusion by passionately focusing on finishing the task?

(Mark Baxter has spent decades mobilizing and training workers to go to the hardest and darkest places on earth. He has traveled extensively to those places himself to share the Gospel and start new churches. He is based in Jacksonville, Florida.)

[For an interactive version of the map above, as well as others, visit the Global Research pages of IMB.org.]