Why Unreached People Groups are Hard to Reach

Unreached people and places are those among whom Jesus is largely unknown and the church is relatively insufficient to make Jesus known to its broader population without outside help. The plight of the unreached helped motivate the apostle Paul’s missionary efforts: 

Unreached people and places are those among whom Jesus is largely unknown and the church is relatively insufficient to make Jesus known to its broader population without outside help.

. . . I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” (Romans 15:19–21)

Today, over 3 billion people in over 7,000 people groups are considered unreached. It’s critical, therefore, that we understand what it means to be unreached and what it is that the unreached so desperately need.

Unreached vs. Lost

Based on the definition above, being unreached is not the same as being lost. Apart from God’s grace in Jesus, everyone is spiritually lost. However, many lost people have heard the gospel or at least have access to a Christian or a church. For people to be considered unreached, however, two main realities must be present:

1. Unreached people do not know the name of Jesus or the truth about who he is and what he has done.

Some who are considered unreached have never even heard of Jesus. Others may have heard his name mentioned, but they don’t know the basic truths about his life, death, and resurrection.

2. Unreached people do not have a church presence around them.

In some cases, there is no church among the unreached. In other cases, the few churches that do exist do not have sufficient resources to make Jesus known among that people group or in that place. 

As we think about reaching the unreached, it’s important to clarify some key terms that affect the church’s mission.

People Groups, Places, and Nations

When Jesus commanded his disciples to make disciples of all “nations” (Matthew 28:19), he wasn’t referring to geopolitical nations, or countries, as we think of them today. The word Jesus used for “nations” (ethne) refers to ethnolinguistic groups of people, that is, those who share a common language and common cultural characteristics, a common ethnicity. We often refer to them today as people groups.

The New Testament also speaks of the spread of the gospel in terms of places. For example, the book of Acts narrates the expansion of the church from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Likewise, the New Testament letters were written to churches in particular locations, such as Rome, Galatia, and Corinth. 

The Spiritual Condition of the Unreached

The fact that the unreached lack access to the gospel does not mean that they are innocent before God. God has made known to everyone his “eternal power” and “divine nature” through the things he has made, yet all people suppress the truth and fail to glorify God (Romans 1:18–21). Therefore, all people, including the unreached, stand condemned before God (Romans 3:20, 23; 5:18). Unless something changes, they will face God’s just wrath for their sins (Romans 2:6–11).

The Greatest Need of the Unreached

Scripture teaches that people must believe the good news of Jesus Christ to be saved, which means their greatest need is to hear the gospel (Romans 10:14–17). Therefore, the church must send out workers to proclaim the gospel to those who have never heard it. By God’s grace, as people respond in repentance and faith, the goal should be to plant churches so that disciples can grow and the gospel can continue to spread through the church.

Significant Barriers to Reaching the Unreached

Though the barriers can seem overwhelming, God is sovereign over each of them.

Since the church’s mission is to make disciples of all nations, one question that naturally arises is, “Why are so many people still unreached?” There are a variety of barriers to getting the gospel to the unreached, including:

  • Spiritual barriers: Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers to the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4) and seeks to prevent believers from proclaiming Christ. Whether it’s through opposition or the temptation to idolize safety and worldly comforts, we have an Enemy who is continually working to hinder the church’s mission. Some of the other barriers below may also work in concert with Satan’s opposition.
  • Persecution: Christians around the world are persecuted for their faith. This persecution occurs at different levels, but it is always aimed at silencing the witness of the gospel and intimidating those who identify with Jesus or are considering following him.
  • Political barriers: Leaders and laws can make it difficult, or even illegal, for churches and individuals to proclaim and live out their faith in certain parts of the world. 
  • Social barriers: Discrimination and opposition based on religion, ethnicity, or background can make it difficult to find employment, share the gospel, or even befriend unbelievers. 
  • Linguistic and cultural barriers: Learning a new language and culture requires time, effort, and intentionality. A long-term gospel witness usually requires a slow, long-term effort in making disciples and planting churches.
  • Natural barriers: Some places in the world are physically hard to reach and/or difficult to survive in due to geographic isolation, difficult weather conditions, inhospitable environments, etc.
  • Developmental barriers: Poor health conditions, a lack of educational opportunities, and poor infrastructure are a few of the factors that can make it difficult for Christians to go and make disciples in certain areas of the world. 

Though the barriers listed above can seem overwhelming, Christians can be confident that God is sovereign over each of them. 

Unstoppable Mission

The church’s mission is not ultimately dependent on its own abilities and resources. Jesus has promised to build his church (Matthew 16:18), and it will include people from all nations, tribes, peoples, and nations (Revelation 7:9). 

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

David Burnette serves as the Senior Editor for Radical. He lives with his wife and three kids in Birmingham, Alabama, and he serves as an elder at Philadelphia Baptist Church. He received his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.


That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Together we can change that!

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