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The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization is currently happening in Cape Town (16-25 Oct 2010). Our man on the spot, Iwan Russell Jones, is blogging for us from inside the congress with news and comment. Check back here each day for new posts.

Lausanne is held in collaboration with the World Evangelical Alliance. The 2010 congress has brought together some 4,000 leaders from 198 countries for dialogue and action on the critical issues of today, including world faiths, poverty, HIV/AIDS and persecution.

Lausanne is also running a virtual congress with video clips and other resources. There's also a Twitter feed and Facebook page.

Photo of the people groups paper
Unreached people groups

Posted by Iwan Russell Jones on 23 October 2010, 11:45

FRIDAY 22 OCTOBER – It wasn’t a good day for me in the main hall. In the plenary session following the Bible Study, Paul Eshleman, Vice President of Campus Crusade, spoke on ‘Discerning the will of Christ for 21st century world evangelization’. He began by suggesting that ‘we could see the fulfilment of the Great Commission [of Christ to make disciples of all nations] in our lifetime.’

What he meant by this is that soon, every people group in the world may well have been reached with the gospel and will have believers in their midst. This, for him, constitutes the completion of the church’s work. So he posed to us what he believes to be the decisive question: ‘Where is the church not? and what are we going to do about it?’

In the full expectation that we would all sign up to make one last big evangelistic effort, he gave us each a booklet containing what he claimed was the finest research into the ‘unreached people groups’. It listed 632 peoples from around the world who have no Christian church in their midst.

But it soon became apparent, even from the responses on my table alone, that the research wasn’t quite as advertised. Two people found major mistakes in the ‘facts’ presented about such groups in Asian countries. Then I looked up the listings for the UK and discovered that it was credited with five such groups, among them ‘Russian’, ‘Ukrainian’ and Romany. I’m sure that this will come as something of a surprise to the Orthodox, Catholic and Traveller Churches that serve them. If this is the best research on ‘Unreached People Groups’, I’d hate to see the worst.

The whole approach strikes me as deeply questionable. It’s based on an eschatology which suggests that once the gospel has reached these remaining peoples in some form or another, God’s hand will be forced and Christ will return. Making that final push is a way of short-circuiting history.

But who are the unreached peoples of the earth? Can we safely say that the inhabitants of Paris or London, or New York or Cardiff have been ‘reached’? Does the mere fact that they have the Bible in their language, and churches and Christian workers in their midst, mean that they’ve ever had a meaningful encounter with the good news of Jesus Christ? I don’t think so.


Thanks for your post and your concerns. My name is Justin Long; I’m a missionary researcher and have been so for 15 years. I really like Paul; he’s a great brother. It is true that his passion is driven in part by eschatology—but also for his heart for unreached peoples.

I’ve tackled the eschatological issues in part in an article. To be reached, however, requires a bit more than just the Bible or churches or workers in their midst.

The missiological definition of reachedness is a church capable of completing and sustaining the work of evangelizing and discipling the entirety of a people group without cross-cultural assistance. In other words, a church body (not just one congregation) strong enough to be able to finish the task on its own, not needing any missionaries.

And the list Paul has is more of a ‘task list’ than a defined list of people groups. It is a bit problematic, because it is a merge of several lists. Missionary researchers have more defined and developed comprehensive lists, the most public of which is at Joshua Project.

Justin Long, Sun 24 Oct, 03:18

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photo of iwan russell jones
Iwan Russell-Jones is a TV producer based in Cardiff.
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