What did Jesus intend in the Great Commission?
In Jesus’ famous last command, commonly known as the “Great Commission,” our Lord instructs His followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). The term “nations” here doesn’t refer to a discrete political entity, but rather to “a body of persons united by kinship, culture, and common traditions” (see definition in BDAG Greek Lexicon). This is what the apostle John describes in Revelation when he sees a great multitude worshiping God “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” (Rev 7:9). This is essentially what missiologists refer to as a “people group.”
In short, Jesus wants His church to spread the gospel–not simply to as many people as possible–but specifically to every people group in the world.
What is a “people group”?
A “people group” is a large grouping of persons united by a variety of elements such as language, religion, ethnicity, location, class, and situation. The Lausanne Movement has defined people group as “the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.”
What is an “unreached people group”?
A people group is considered “unreached” with the gospel when the evangelical Christian population makes up less than 2% of the overall population. This small percentage makes the indigenous church too small and without enough resources to reach the rest of the group and therefore in need of outside assistance for the gospel to spread.
The vast majority of these unreached people groups live in what is known as the 10/40 window.
What all of this means is that if we neglect to spread the gospel among unreached people groups, we will not fulfill the Great Commission.
How is the church doing?
Estimates vary, but there are currently around 16,750 people groups in the world, 6,921 of which are unreached. The shocking stats are what follow.
Only 2.4% of foreign missionaries are serving among unreached people groups, and only 1% of money given toward “missions” is used toward spreading the gospel among unreached peoples. The rest are laboring and giving toward evangelizing already-reached people groups.
To put it another way, if you were to gather a group of 100 missionaries, only 2 of them would be sharing the gospel with a people group that truly needs outside support for the church to spread, and only a penny out of every dollar given would go to support them. On the other hand, 97 of these missionaries would be laboring amidst already-reached peoples, with 99 cents on the dollar going to support them.
To many, this suggests that the church is not being very strategic in seeking to obey Jesus’ last command to us. We are heavily focusing our efforts and resources on evangelizing already-reached people groups. Our prayer is that the church as a whole will reorient its efforts toward being strategic in obeying the Great Commission. What each of us can do is be intentional and direct at least some of our missional time and resources toward the spread of the gospel where the church needs it most.