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“Why should we take the gospel overseas when there are people here who need Jesus?”

This is a common refrain among Christians who believe the Church should prioritize local ministry over global ministry.

It’s true that there is plenty of ministry work to be done wherever Christians live. With only about a third of the world practicing some form of Christianity, billions of people are in need of Jesus’ free gift of salvation, including people who live in our own cities.

Since that’s the case, why should churches send missionaries overseas? The answer boils down to the difference between a person who is lost and a person who is unreached. The two words are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not necessarily the same.

Lost vs. Unreached (vs. Unevangelized)

Any person who has not recognized Jesus as Lord and Savior and has not accepted His free gift of salvation is considered lost. This includes people across the street and across the globe.

Lost is the broadest definition for those who are not followers of Jesus, and it has a few subcategories.

One subcategory is unreached. An unreached person has little chance of hearing the gospel because of political, cultural, or geographical barriers. An unreached people group has a Christian Evangelical population of less than 2% and a Christian adherent population of less than 5%, according to the Joshua Project. With so few believers living among them, unreached people have little to no access to the gospel.

Another subset of lost people is unevangelized. Unevangelized people have also not heard the gospel, but they live in places where they do have access to it. They may have friends or family members who are Christians, or they may live near a church.

Unreached and unevangelized people are all lost, but not all lost people are unreached or unevangelized.

It is also important to note that unreached people are not the same as unevangelized people. It all comes down to a matter of access to the gospel.

“There’s an important difference between unevangelized and unreached peoples. Unevangelized people are unconverted individuals in places where there are established churches. Unreached peoples are those that live in regions where there are no churches and no access to the evangelical gospel in their culture.” -David Sitton

Who Should We Reach?

When it comes to missions and evangelizing the world, who should believers prioritize reaching? The answer is more of a both/and rather than an either/or approach.

God desires all lost people to know and turn to Him.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” -2 Peter 3:9, emphasis added

As believers encounter non-believers in their spheres of influence, they should be faithful to share the gospel and pray that those individuals would come to repentance.

At the same time, there is an urgency to get the gospel out to the ends of the Earth—especially to the unreached. More than 3 billion people worldwide are unreached with the gospel, and unless someone goes to them, they will have nearly no chance of discovering God’s saving grace.

People from every tribe and language will one day worship God, and He has commissioned believers to take the gospel to the nations.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” -Revelation 7:9a, emphasis added

‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations … .’” -Matthew 28:19a, emphasis added

Believers have the responsibility to evangelize both those around them and those who are unreached with the gospel.

So while there may be plenty of gospel work to be done where you live, that doesn’t lessen the need for gospel ministry overseas. Jesus has entrusted His followers with the Great Commission, and we should be faithful to fulfill it.

Learn More About the Unreached

Read East-West's guide to unreached people groups to learn who they are, where they live, and how God is calling us to reach them.

Explore the Guide