Dr. Ralph Winter did a tremendous service for the body of Christ when he coined the term Unreached People Group (UPG). He shined the light on the thousands of distinct people groups who have zero or inadequate Gospel access. Yet, there are people who use his term out of context to describe their ministry focus, even when their people focus does not warrant or fall within the definition of his term. As a result, this got me thinking.
Could I come up with a term that is similar yet distinct? Even if no one else uses it, I wanted it to be unique and viable for Silk Road Catalyst so we can explain who and why we engage a certain people and location. I want to highlight where the greatest Gospel needs are at rather than lumping entire people groups into a definition that may not always apply holistically across the people group. This is how I came up with the term Gospel Deprived back in August 2017.
The Gospel Deprived are spiritually lost. Yet, not all who are lost are Gospel Deprived. It includes the majority identified as part of unreached people groups. Yet, not all who are part of an unreached people group is Gospel Deprived. The Gospel Deprived definition fixates on cities, towns, villages and communities.
Being Gospel Deprived has everything to do with access to the Gospel and a Biblical Community that is culturally relevant. Having access involves having a combination of three components: Relationships; Distance; Relevancy.
Access is determined by relationships. A relationship within ones community is superior to long distance ones. While innovation has allowed the Gospel to penetrate difficult areas through electronic avenues, having a Christian relationship in close proximity is best and most effective.
The definition of an unreached people group is a distinct people group who share a common language and culture with a population that has fewer than 5% professing Christians and 2% Evangelical. While we use this definition to help us determine adequate relationship potential with Christians, we apply it slightly differently.
We apply it to cities, towns, villages and communities. A city by itself may qualify as unreached, even if the majority of the people group within the city is part of a reached people group by definition. For example:
The Han Chinese, as a single people group, is a reached people group. There is adequate number of Han Chinese Christians and churches that can reach the entire Han people group, simply based on the definition of UPGs. This only takes into account the number of Christians who are Han. It does not take into account where these Han Christians live or whether all majority Han cities, towns, villages and communities have a Han Christian presence.
Our HUB in East Asia is a mega city and primarily Han. There is a growing and thriving Han church in the city. But, based on research we have done, the best we can discern is that 2% of the entire city professes to follow Christ. If we simply go by the UPG definition by applying it to the Han as a whole, one might believe this city does not need outside missionary help to impact the city but that is not the case. While the UPG definition regarding 2% & 5% is merely a number, there is clearly not enough Han Christian disciple-makers to engage the whole city.
Access is determined by distance. Churches and Christians must be within a reasonable distance to the Gospel Deprived. There is no certain figure that determines what is and is not reasonable since reasonable is a matter of opinion. However, I will say a reasonable distance is having an adequate number of local churches within a 30-minute walk of the Gospel Deprived based on the UPG definition.
Delhi, India is home to a number of Churches and Christians. Yet, the vast majority of Delhi residents have not heard the Gospel one time, do not know one Christian and many do not have a single church within a reasonable distance to their home.
Access is determined by relevancy. A person should be able to hear the Gospel and meet with a local church that respects and includes their language and culture. I do understand that not all components of one’s culture will be integrated into a local body of believers, especially when those components contradict God’s Word. However, the Kingdom of God is not mono-cultural. It is a conglomerate of cultures. Local churches should represent and be free to express their culture within Biblical boundaries.
An American pastor preaching the Gospel to a specific Muslim people group in the Middle East through the cultural lenses of the American culture is not relevant proclamation. Relevant access is being able to hear the Gospel through ones own cultural lenses.
A Hindu family living in the US Bible Belt is Gospel Deprived when the massive Christian community around them is strictly proclaiming the Gospel through their American culture lenses. Some may argue that these Hindus should adapt to American culture since they live on American soil. However, the Bible does not endorse this.
Paul states in 1 Corinthians 9, “I have become all things to all people that by all possible means I might save some”. We should never expect the Gospel Deprived to come and adapt to us. As the body of Christ, we should go to them and seek to proclaim the Gospel in a way that helps them understand it. Why? Because, it is not about our wants but God’s glory among all peoples.
Relationships. Access. Relevancy. All three components are vital. All three help us determine who is Gospel Deprived and who is not. And, when it is determined that a group of people have all three components among them, the Church does not stop engaging them. We should simply describe them in a different light, and that is a great thing.
I dream of the day when there are no more Gospel Deprived cities, towns, villages and communities. I dream of the day when the term Gospel Deprived is merely a word in our history books rather than a present day reality for so many. On that day, there will remain a lot of work still to do. But, at least everyone will have access to the Gospel and a Biblical Community.
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Steve Schirmer, President of Silk Road Catalyst and co-Host of Missions Talk. Least Reached Advocate. Dedicated to No Place Left.