Reaching the Least Reached People Groups, House Churches, and Missions
Executive Director, Global Christian Network, Inc.
One in four still remain without reasonable access: Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ gave to Hisdisciples what we now refer to as the ‘Great Commission’, charging them to go into all the world, makingdisciples of all nations or ‘ethne’. ‘Ethnê’ is the Greek word used here in the New Testament often translated“nation”—a word which means tribe, ethnic group or people. Our world today has 6.4 billion individuals living in 234 geo-political nations but our world has over 16,000 ethnê, or people groups, by country. Of those ethnê, more than 6,700 groups still remain least-reached. This simply means they are a people group lacking an indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize their own people group. Research seems to indicate that until a group gains more than 2% evangelical believers or more than 5% adherents to some form of Christianity, they are not yet able to successfully evangelize their own without help from outside the group. This means one in four people on earth still remain without reasonable access to the gospel—the forgotten, the ignored. We could call this group the ‘Forgotten Fourth World’.
Why are these people groups or ethnê still least reached after so many years? The AD2000 u0026amp; Beyond Movement during the 1990’s helped the Body of Christ globally to wake up to Jesus’ challenge to respond to His call to people groups that still remained without the Good News. This movement highlighted the 10/40 Window, the region of the world located between ten and forty degrees north of the equator stretching from West Africa across to East Asia where the largest numbers of these ethne were concentrated. Prayer rose in a ground swell focusing on these groups and included prayer journeys to take prayer onsite with insight. God moved on behalf of this believing prayer so that many of the geo-political nations in this region began to experience fundamental shifts. Yet, research was struggling to keep pace with the efforts to find and reach the people groups most needing attention and often efforts ended focusing on geo-political nations as a whole rather than people groups, which were more difficult to identify, locate and target. Many geo-political nations experienced substantial shifts in the overall percentage of believers as a whole when one or more individual people groups responded to the gospel, but, upon closer examination, many unreached people groups remain within those same nations. Great publicity sometimes is confused with real progress: The great emphasis in many parts of the world, especially during the last twenty years, on reaching the unreached has led church leaders in many continents to believe that great progress has been made. Yes, some progress has been made. Yet, 25-28% of the world still has little access to the Gospel. Christians still give only about 1% of our money to Christian causes. Of this money given to Christian causes, 95% is spent on the Church. Less than 1% is used to reach 28% of the world. Only 2-4% of Christian cross-cultural witnesses serve this 28%. Projections show that the percentage of the least evangelized peoples will not diminish significantly in the next several decades. The world percentage of Christians is also not projected to grow if ministry and mission continue to follow current patterns (World Christian Encyclopedia projections).
The Forgotten Fourth World has continued to present formidable barriers to the gospel in terms of culture, geography, linguistics, politics, religion, and awareness. Many of the remaining least-reached peoples are still least-reached for very good reasons. Cultural barriers such as significant persecution against Christians, resistance to change, and viewing Christianity as a ‘foreign religion’ hinder the advance of the gospel. Many least-reached people groups live in remote areas with harsh climates making access difficult. A significant portion of the remaining least-reached peoples are nomadic or semi-nomadic, presenting unique challenges to bringing the gospel and establishing churches among them. Barriers may take the form of linguistic challenges. These groups may have high rates of illiteracy; or, they may be an oral culture. They may have a language as yet unwritten with few or no scriptures in their heart languages. Or, there may be issues of terminology such that finding ways to adequately express the gospel so that it can be understood clearly may be difficult. Wycliffe indicates that perhaps as many as 2,500 languages are still in need of the gospel in their language. Politics can play a role in creating barriers against the gospel: least-reached peoples may live in areas where governments or religious groups restrict access for Christians and evangelism may be forbidden. Some groups live in war zones or areas of conflict which make evangelism a difficult anddangerous business. Least-reached people groups may live in restrictive religious climates with little or no freedom of religion. Persecution may range from intense to moderate and sporadic, but care and sensitivity may be required among many groups for this reason. Many of the remaining least-reached peoples are so because believers living even nearby may be unaware of their need to hear the gospel or may simply be unconcerned or even hostile to those that need the good news. Often people groups which have been guilty of great offenses against other Christian groups cause those believers to be reluctant or totally unwilling to share God’s love with the offending people. There may be cultural or social prejudices preventing believers from being effective messengers. Least-reached peoples may live in isolation and actually even be hidden, kept from the life-giving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some least-reached groups may be small in size, often considered ‘too small to bother with’. Yet, Jesus indicated God’s concern for every individual.
For such a time as this? With such a formidable task before us, it would be easy to be discouraged. But I believe this very gathering of the Global House Church Movement Summit may indeed be a part of God’s answer for ‘such a time as this’ to completing this task assigned to the Church so many years ago by Jesus Himself. House churches may be the very means that God will use and indeed is using to penetrate these last frontiers for the gospel.
House churches the ideal: House churches are, by their very nature, small and better adapted to their cultural and social environments. For this reason, it is much easier for new believers to be assimilated and discipled in these natural social groupings. If the house churches themselves are functioning such that every member is a minister of the gospel, this itself maximizes the efforts of the group in a way seldom if ever seen in congregational churches. As every believer prays and watches for the ‘people of peace’ (Luke 10:6) in their daily lives, clusters of house churches will expand into more and more sectors of the society. By establishing new fellowships where people respond, rather than bringing them back to older existing fellowships, a higher probability of penetrating new people groups and relational networks exists.
Keep our eyes fixed on the 1 of 99: If house church leaders encourage their fellowships to ‘lift their eyes to the fields which are white for harvest’, we believe God will indeed open their eyes and direct them to newer and less ‘harvested’ areas of work. The Good Shepherd’s example was to leave the ninety-nine and go searching for the one lost sheep. If house churches are incorporating a practice of ‘praying the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers into His harvest fields’ regularly, we believe God will move their hearts to look with compassion on people groups near and far which are in great need of new workers and to respond in obedience by going or by sending workers to them. It would be a simple matter to follow a regular plan of praying systematically for least-reached peoples month by month as with the Ethne Harvest-linked Prayer Strategy (HeLPS) initiative, moving east to west, region by region, month by month, so that every year time would have been spent lifting up this Forgotten Fourth World to God specifically. Beginning just after the day of Pentecost each year, the Global Day of Prayer, in June, Ethne’s initiative prays for the 692 least-reached peoples of South Pacific and Southeast Asia, moving to Northeast Asia’s 492 groups in July, and moving westward to the 281 least-reached Buddhist and other small religious groups of South Asia in August, the 2,093 Hindus of South Asia in September and then the 578 Muslim groups of South Asia in October. The 765 remaining least-reached peoples of Central Asia are the focus of prayer for Ethne’s initiative in November followed by the 361 least-reached of Middle East/North Africa in December, then in January the 332 leastreached groups of Eastern and Southern Africa. February begins focusing on the 457 least-reached groups in West and Central Africa, followed by the 206 least-reached groups of Eastern Europe/Eurasia in March, then, in April, the 190 least-reached groups living in Western Europe are in the spotlight of prayer. Finally, in May each year prayer focuses on the 198 least-reached groups remaining in the Americas/Caribbean. As believers pray, would God not also speak to individuals as they pray to give them creative ways to become involved in reaching these groups?
Sending our best two by two: The Luke 10 passage, which so many house churches follow as their guidelines, indicates the sending out of workers two by two ‘every place where Jesus was about to come’. Implicit in this verse is the idea that we must discern through prayer and divine revelation WHERE Jesus is about to come, as He is NOT yet there. Jesus commanded His disciples to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. As house churches pray and listen to the direction of the Holy Spirit, He will indeed guide them to send out workers two by two even as He did with the Antioch Church in the early days. This Antioch Church sent its best, most seasoned workers—Paul and Barnabas—those who had been the key leaders up to that point in their midst. And, doesn’t it follow that we should also give our best to His purposes in the earth? Shouldn’t we be putting this process of listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit and the scriptures to send out two by two into practice in our house churches?
Praying for least-reached peoples should become a regular practice in our house fellowships, as we obey Jesus’ command to pray for workers in the harvest. The more specific our prayers, the more fervent they are. As George Otis, Jr. said, “Specificity fuels fervency and fervency yields results.” We, in fact, often become a part of the answer to our own prayers, as Isaiah discovered (Isaiah 6). One of our village fellowships became moved with compassion as they realized together that a neighboring village of a different people group had no believers among them. As they prayerfully considered what they could do, they thought of the opportunity they had to hire themselves out as workers during the harvest times. They decided together that if they hired themselves to the people of this neighboring village at a better price than others, and did better work than others, surely those hiring them would ask why, thus giving them a perfect opportunity to share God’s love and good news.
Worker2Witness: God led several of our house church networks to have a heart for reaching others of their group living far beyond their own area. In order to do this, missionaries were raised up and sent out from the churches short term and long term to the Diaspora of their people group, even in other nations. As the Filipino Church has so ably demonstrated, training believers to be church planters who are going overseas as foreign workers is one of the ways that house churches can impact the least-reached peoples far beyond their own backyards. But, other shorter range sending is happening within the country to other pockets of the same people groups as well.
One of the greatest challenges to reaching unreached people groups is that of crossing cultures. The gospel tends to spread more easily within single or closely related cultural and social groupings. Yet, the house church holds the key to penetrating new cultures: through friendship evangelism and prayer evangelism. Cultivating the ability to love others as Christ loved us, including those who are “different” from us, coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit to direct us as we work, opens the doors of hearts to hear our message. Prayer for others becomes love in action and often provides opportunities to further explain the good news as God works with us confirming His word with signs and wonders following. Furthermore, if we in our house fellowships are seeking practical ways of expressing the presence of the kingdom of God in our midst through kingdom living, we will see significant impact on our communities as well. One of the most effective ways of multiplying house fellowships is finding creative means to gather, then to disciple those who gather. In our networks, we have seen new believers come to faith and new fellowships established as groups were gathered for agricultural coops, for building latrines or smokeless stoves, literacy or ESL classes, and so on. Watching for ‘felt needs’ of the group God is calling us to reach and then prayerfully responding to those ‘felt needs’ can be just the sort of divine open doors God will give us.
Watching for opportunities to establish house fellowships in Antioch centers is another way that the house church movement could be effective among unreached people groups. Antioch was a crossroads of commerce and transportation in their day. As the gospel took root there, its influence carried far and wide through contact with travelers and traders passing through. In the same way, the ministry of our house churches can be far-reaching if we also take advantage of such kinds of opportunities. One example in our own network was a believer who constructed drums, one of the favored instruments of his people group. He also was a musician and lived near a bus park which was a crossroads of transportation in his area. He took his business to the streets, to this bus park, carrying his drums there and playing Christian songs he had composed in the local folk style with these drums. He not only managed to provide the support he needed for himself, his family and his ministry through this business, it was an effective tool of evangelism as well and opened the door many times for gospel presentations to the customers. Those who came to faith were often from far flung regions of the country that were simply passing through that bus park on their way somewhere else. Praise God for His divine creativity!
Another of the strengths of house churches is that often its leaders and members are bi-vocational lay leaders who are self-supported through micro-enterprises or tentmaking. This is an ideal pattern for reaching out to least-reached peoples, first, because workers then are self-supporting and additional donations can help extend the ability of the worker to meet felt needs in the community, transforming it through kingdom living. This is the ideal model as a witness of the gospel, so that those around are seeing lived out what the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is in practical ways. Since we reproduce what we model, this would be the ideal way of reproducing godly ministers who depend on God as their Source and Supply. Here are only a few of the types of small businesses which God has used in our network: animal husbandry, coffee shop/reading room, stationery shop, small clinics, taxi service, bicycle repair shop, construction business, bookshop w/reading room, recycling/trash, fitness center, cell phone as pay phone, beauty parlor/barbershop, vocational schools, kindergarten/child care, car repair/maintenance, tuition center, mushroom farm, music school, beekeeping, fish ponds, handicrafts productions such as bamboo goods and straw crafts, dance institute, and a guesthouse/restaurant.
The place of commanded blessing: As house church networks begin to expand within specific geo-political nations, it would be healthy and encouraging to see these networks within each nation developing their own ways of interconnecting and coordinating their efforts within and beyond their own land. Not only with a heart to see a “church within reach of every person”, but with a heart “to the ends of the earth”, networks of house churches would have the potential to become training and sending bases to a much greater extent than might be possible within an individual house church. What better training ground for a cross-cultural missionary than a house church that is actively reaching their own Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria? To the extent that the wider Body of Christ is open to cross-connecting with house churches in the local area, it may be that God would use the influence of house church leaders and believers to “provoke to love and good deed” our brothers and sisters in the traditional churches surrounding them. In our experience, working together across the wider Body of Christ in the unity of the Spirit, keeping the bond of peace, results in God’s “commanded blessing” on our efforts according to Psalm 133. Within our network, the greatest breakthroughs occurred just following the time when thirteen of the seventeen denominational leaders signed a covenant agreeing to work together to see a church planted within reach of every person in their country!
Transforming our world: In short, brothers and sisters, believing in Jesus Christ is not enough! We must go to the world in faith, in His Name, keeping in mind God’s heart for those beyond the reach of the gospel! But, evangelism is not enough! We must intentionally gather those who respond, ideally into new house churches as we go! Gathering is not enough, however! We must be fruitful and multiply fellowships so that the church is within reach of every person on planet earth, especially among those who now have the least access to the Good News! But, still, multiplying is not enough! We must transform our world as salt and light through kingdom living! House churches, I believe, are the answer to many prayers lifted up over the years for these least-reached people groups. Is it any accident that many of the leaders of large networks of house churches today discovered the keys of Luke 10 during the 1990’s, a time of great outpouring of prayers on behalf of these very least-reached peoples? Let’s join hands with God and one another to see the knowledge of the glory of the Lord covering the earth as the waters cover the sea! He deserves all the praise and honor and glory!
A.D. 2000 and Beyond http://www.ad2000.org/ .
Barrett, David W., George Kurian and Todd Johnson, eds. World Christian Encyclopedia. Oxford University Press,
Global Day of Prayer www.globaldayofprayer.org
Joshua Project., http://www.joshuaproject.net/