Why are the red zones red? Why are millions of people unreached by the gospel? In this episode of Neighborhoods & Nations, we explain why Christianity has spread the way it has across the world and why there are still areas completely unreached by the gospel.
Over 3 billion people and over 7,000 people groups are currently unreached by the gospel.
Wait a minute. That’s a lot of people. I feel like we need to have a conversation about this.
I come from a family of missionaries. On my mom’s side, my grandparents were Dutch missionaries who served Jewish immigrant communities in the US after World War II. On my dad’s side, my grandmother hopped on a bus in Kansas and went all the way down to Guatemala, where she worked in adoption and orphan care. I am very much the product of people who left everything they had in order to reach others with the gospel. But those are stories for another day.
Today, we’re thinking about this other map. This is a map of the places with the greatest spiritual needs. It shows us the nations with the people, groups that are least accessible to the gospel. The green zones are places with gospel presence. There are Christians, churches, and gospel teaching that are easy to access for any person. We call these zones reached. The red zones are unreached, or at best, very hard to reach.
So what does unreached actually mean? And more importantly, how do the red zones get to be red in the first place? What do you mean by unreached? We say we need to reach the unreached. What is that and how is that different from just lost people?
So unreached biblically, think Romans 15. Paul is saying and leaving regions where the gospel has gone, where people have access to the gospel now to go to a place in Spain where the gospel is not known. The language he used in Romans 15 is “where Christ is not known,” where people don’t know the good news about who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. So maybe you’re thinking, Wait, I have unreached people in my neighborhood or at my office, but they’re not in the red zones.
Well, that’s not really what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about lost people. Lost people are people who don’t know, believe, and trust in Jesus. Those are everywhere. But there’s an added challenge if you’re lost and unreached. So practically, if you’re in an unreached area or if you’re an unreached person, then the likelihood is you’ll be born and you’ll live or die and you will never even hear the good news about who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. You have yet to be reached with that good news, you don’t have access to it.
It’s not that you have heard it or even have access to it and you don’t believe it. It’s that you don’t even have access to that goodness. You don’t know a Christian and you don’t have a church near you where the gospel is being proclaimed. You’re unreached by it. And there are 3.2 billion people like that in the world. This is what the red zones represent.
The question, though, is why they even exist in the first place and how did that number get to be so big? If you begin to look at the countries and people groups in these regions, you’ll find that there are no simple answers. Every nation and every people group has its own complex history, its own geographical challenges, and its own cultural, linguistic, political, and religious background that factors into why a certain region is more or less reachable or accessible for gospel work. It’s all way more than I can cover in one video, but maybe there are two ideas here that can help us understand this challenge and will do something about it.
Reaching the Unreached is Hard
The first is this. Reaching the unreached is hard. I know that’s obvious, but hear me out. Reaching the unreached is hard because gospel work more often than not, is not a welcome activity anywhere in the world.
In the Bible, Christians are promised that we will not be welcomed in this world. John literally says, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” It’s the direct result of following Christ because you are not of the world. But I chose you out of the world. Therefore, the world hates you and persecution from the world is not a maybe sort of thing. It’s an assumed definitely going to happen kind of thing. And that’s just the starting condition of the world.
But there are also other forces working against the gospel. Ultimately, I think it’s a spiritual reason. The adversary in this world does not want 3 billion people to be reached for the gospel, and he’s doing everything he can to keep that from happening. Zoom in on this map and you will find that this spiritual oppression takes physical forms, often through violent persecution.
Open Doors USA reports that 13 Christians are killed every day for their faith. That’s 400 Christians killed every month. That’s twice the size of the average church in the US every month. And so he’s working every day and in every way to keep the gospel from going to the unreached.
And then there is there are practical reasons. It’s hard to get the gospel to unreached people because they are unreached for a reason. They’re difficult to reach. They’re dangerous to reach, say, all the time, like the easy ones are taken. These are hard places to go. God’s enemy was defeated by the cross and resurrection of Christ still seeks to deceive and blind people using whatever means possible. It all goes back to this idea. Reaching the unreached is hard. This is not the only reason why the red zones are red.
Cultural Christianity is Easy
Reaching the unreached is hard. It’s also true that we might be taking it too easy, meaning we’d rather remain in a comfortable version of Christianity that exists to serve us rather than embrace a costly Christianity centered on serving others.
When I think about this, the spiritual dynamic at the core of all this, I think about our unreached people. I mean, picture people who for centuries have been kept in darkness who have been blinded. Consider 2 Corinthians 4:4–6, where we learn that they have been blinded from seeing the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus, and have been convinced that these idols are worth worshiping instead, that these gods or spirits are what needs to be appeased or whatever or there is no God.
So there are centuries of spiritual darkness. And then you put on top of that those with the Gospel, even just in the context where you and I are sitting right now, like the idolatry of money and materialism and prosperity in this world, the idolatry of sex, sports, success, like so many different things, that consume our minds, our thoughts, our treasure, what we’re pursuing after we’re running after.
Like, look at it. Yes. Look at our lives as Christians. We’re spending so much of our time on so much stuff in this world. So we’re not blinded in the same way. By God’s grace, we have the gospel, but it’s like we’re blinded to what God is doing in the world and we don’t see it. The Church would rather remain comfortable than engage in a difficult task.
Now I don’t want to appear overly critical, so let’s just look at some numbers. According to estimates, in 2021, Christians around the world earned a combined annual income of approximately 51 trillion USD. Out of this, they donated about 848 billion to Christian causes.
Additional estimates report that about 82% of Christian giving stays in local churches. About 12% goes to ministries in their home countries. Less than 6% goes to missions. In other countries, only 1% went to missions that served unreached peoples. This means that for every hundred grand that Christians earn, only about a dollar goes to serving the unreached.
To give you some context, the global church spends less on the unreached than the United States spends on golf balls or Twinkies. These numbers are important because it tells us where the church is spending its dollars and Jesus tells us where your treasure is there your heart will be also. But the question remains, why is giving to serve unreached people groups so low?
Even when we think about the resources that we have, why we’re not giving more, the ROI, the return on investment. Like if you can give this amount of money and it goes toward this work in a more rich part of the world you can get numbers. All these people come to know Jesus and you can get all these great stories going back. You give the same amount of money to the heart of the Middle East and to people come to know Jesus. You’re like, Oh, I want to celebrate this over here.
So there are a lot of reasons why, and I think we’re afraid of some of these places that we’ve got to systematically work through in our own minds, in lives and in our churches to say, what’s it going to take? I heard one person say a long time ago who has spent decades among the unreached. He said, I’ve just found most Christians and churches I’ve worked with don’t have the stomach to do what it takes to get the gospel to them.
And so that’s part of what we got a story. We have the seminar we’re willing to pay the price, are willing to endure whatever is involved in order to get the gospel. People have never. So the point is reaching the unreached is hard and it’s harder when we’re not willing to do what it takes. But it’s not harder than Jesus told us it would be. And because He’s promised to be with us, it’s only possible we have a guaranteed victory.
Unreached people groups around the world are not unreachable. They’re just unreached. For now, the truth is that the problem of the red zones, it’s not about money or resources. It’s about discipleship. Are we willing to obey Jesus call on our lives, no matter the cost, to get the gospel to people from all nations? It’s a good question you should consider, and we hope that this new series on Radical’s channel will tell the stories of the nations and help you see what you can do about it, even from your own neighborhood. All right. See ya.