There are nearly 17,000 people groups in the world today. The gospel has reached roughly 10,000 of these biblical “nations” (“Why Do We Talk about People Groups?”). What exactly does that mean? Each of these people groups has an indigenous church capable of evangelizing its own culture. That leaves nearly 7000 people groups without a vital, reproducing church. These are considered unreached people groups.
That does not necessarily mean that there are no believers or churches among these people groups. There could be small groups of worshiping believers, but without outside help they would not be able to reproduce the church within their own culture.
“Planting” among unreached people groups
An organic term for this kind of reproduction is “church planting.” The gospel message is the seed; the people and their culture are the soil; and the church planter or evangelist is the sower of the gospel seed. Just as in farming, there must be good seed, soil that is prepared to receive that seed, and sowers dedicated to the task. A deficiency in any of these areas will result in a poor crop or in no crop at all.
Any farmer will tell you that preparing a new field for planting is hard work. The same is true when it comes to planting the seed of the gospel in an unreached people group. Their cultural soil will likely be difficult to till and resistant to the seed. The sowers may be few.
Often just a small patch of field can be planted at first, but with faithful perseverance the planting will expand. The gospel seed will permeate the people group’s culture, and the church will begin healthy reproduction. A people group is said to be “reached” when the indigenous church is healthy enough to reproduce within its own culture without substantial outside assistance. That’s our goal.