Nearly 50 years ago the global missions community embraced a refined vision of the mission task – reach all people groups, not just all countries. This began decades of growing in understanding of what it takes to do so.
There were movements and initiatives launched focusing on unreached people groups: AD2000, Adopt-a-People, Pray through the Window, and, more recently, Finishing the Task, Ethne, GACX, and the 24:14 movements. These have all served to bring awareness and have advanced a greater commitment to finishing the task of world evangelization.
Learning through Experience
In 2015 God led us to set a goal to place pioneer workers among 500 of the least-reachedˆ people groups by the year 2020. On May 7, 2020, we confirmed that teams were working among 503 unreached people groups, and today there are now both Western and Non-western missionary teams in 542 of these profoundly unreached groups. We praise God for the advance of the Kingdom in such critical places!
But, we have to ask, “Now what? What happens after a missionary team begins to live among the unreached?”
God stated the impact of His redemptive vision to Moses just before he passed judgment on the children of Israel for refusing to go in to possess the Promised Land after the ten spies brought a negative and fearful report, “My glory will cover the earth.” (Number 14:21)
We don’t want to just settle for initial engagement, but rather to see healthy churches planted, multiplied, and in turn sending their own missionaries. The goal in God’s heart is for the presence of the Gospel message and His followers to cover the earth – reaching all people in all places.
Seven Stages of Effective Engagement
This conviction led us to develop the “Seven Stages of Effective Engagement” – a roadmap, strategy, and measurement for seeing mission fields become mission forces and for the Gospel to be accessible to all people everywhere.
An unreached people group is adopted with the very serious intent of finding ways to place teams of missionaries among them to plant healthy churches.
- Initial Engagement
The team arrives on the field and begins to ferret out the many prerequisites needed before they can begin to disciple people –including, among others, language and culture learning, procuring long term visas, developing an authentic platform for ministry, and researching the people group to find the right location for living among them.
- First Disciples
Assuming success in learning how to communicate effectively, finding the persons of peace, the day will prayerfully come when the simple sharing of their faith and diligent disciple-making produces fruit in winning the first disciples to the Lord.
- First Church Planted
Once the initial disciples and groups of disciples are grounded in the Lord, then the first church can be planted. This is when the new believers evidence their (1) commitment to Jesus Christ and obedience to his Word and Spirit; (2) commitment to each other, to meeting regularly together for worship and edification; and (3) commitment to share the good news of Jesus to others who do not yet know him.
- Plant Other Churches
When we come to Stage 5 things get really interesting! When the indigenous church begins to plant other churches without overt leadership from the pioneer missionary, then the planting of healthy churches has the potential to move out of “addition” and into “multiplication.” This is also when the indigenous church begins to move to a place of sustainability.
- Church Planting Movement
Stage 6 is what all church planters dream about! This is when a church planting movement begins. This may be so substantial that no word except “wildfire” can describe it. Or, the growth can be slower; but as the churches multiply, they move from one generation of churches to the next, to the next, and so on.
The long-term goal is sustainable multiplication that results in the Gospel saturating not only the engaged people group, but prayerfully spreading into at least some of the other unreached people groups around them.
- Send their own Missionaries
Finally, the new churches join into God’s larger movement around the globe by sending their own missionaries to other unreached people groups. And thus, the cycle begins all over again as the Holy Spirit leads the new mission initiative in a unique expression of ministry to other unreached people groups.
It’s easy to state the seven stages; it’s not easy to see these fully implemented among the unreached. Satan does not give up territory easily. Missionaries can lose their visas, get sick, or must at times go home to care for aging parents.
Even when they can stay long term on the field, the people group’s resistance needs to be broken down, the Gospel needs to be presented in a way that is compelling, and the new churches need to develop strong indigenous leadership resulting in healthy churches that multiply. Not easy and not possible in human effort alone! The Spirit of God must move.
A version of this article was first published in Co-Mission Magazine, published by Bethany International.