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Unreached People Groups with the Bible

In today's post, we'll consider the reality of Unreached People Groups that are not what typical mission agencies emphasize or even acknowledge.

At the Radius International (R.I.) Missiology Conference that we attended last summer, it was said that an unreached people group, in their estimation, is a people group that does not have the word of God translated into their language. This is a good topic related to missions, evangelism, and church planting so I'll share some of my thoughts as a missionary to Italy, a European country. I don't think any of us would argue against this statement from R.I. We wholeheartedly agree that any group without the Bible in their language is indeed unreached. If there's a people group that does not yet have the word of God translated into their language, they definitely need to be reached because one cannot know the way of salvation apart from God's Word. Nature, God's creation, natural revelation reveals God to everyone, but it's not enough for anyone to be saved. To be soundly saved, we need to hear God's Word. One cannot believe unto salvation without hearing the Gospel message.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” - Romans 10:14-15

Paul explains in Romans 10 that someone has to go and proclaim the Gospel for others to be able to hear and believe and be saved. Knowing God exists is not enough for salvation. It's enough to render everyone without excuse on the day of judgment. It's enough to move us to pursue further knowledge of our Creator. In Romans chapter 1, we learn a very important truth that we all know God exists, and we're all without excuse. It's absolutely true, indeed, that unregenerate man suppresses the truth of God. Unbelievers are actively doing this every day. It's therefore, definitely a good statement that R.I. made when they said an unreached people group is a people group that does not have the Word of God translated. The Word is central to salvation.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. - Romans 1:18-19

I've also heard it said elsewhere that an unreached people group is any people group that is less than 2% evangelical. Any people group that is less than 2% evangelical would be considered an unreached people group in need of the gospel. They're not able to reach their own people when they are almost nonexistent (numerically). They need help. The US is something like 20% or more evangelical. Italy is less than 1% evangelical in most regions. 32,000 of the 34,000 cities and towns still today have not a Biblical church.

Interesting to note is that here in Italy the Bible is translated into the Italian language and it has been translated for them for a long time. Any people group without the Bible is indeed unreached, but so are countries like Italy. They have the Bible, yet they're still unreached! There are so few believers here that they're just not able on their own, it seems, to reach everybody around them. They need help. This is why there's a need for missions work in Italy. Missionaries can come alongside the Italian believers to assist them in reaching their own people.

The greatest need in Italy today is for the Word of God to be proclaimed, preached, and taught from house to house and in the public square. They have it translated. All they need is to hear the Word and to be rightly taught the Gospel and the actual way of salvation by grace through faith and not by works.

It's not enough, I would argue, to simply have the Word of God. If we just look at the Old Testament people of God we see that often the Word of God would get lost. Then they would find it again and realize how far they had gone astray. It's one thing to have the word of God, but another thing to be taught it properly and to be taught how to apply it to everyday life. As followers of Jesus, we are not just to possess the Word of God. We are to be possessed by it. It is to abide in our hearts as we also abide in Christ Jesus and He in us. Italians have the Word of God in a general sense, but few actually possess a Bible today and almost no one actually reads it nor hears it faithfully taught. There is a real spiritual famine in Italy today.

Let us remember that one cannot know God rightly, for salvation as well, without God's Word (special or divine revelation), being taught to them. This lack of being properly taught about God and His word is why most people do not know the Gospel in Italy today. Italy today does not have many Biblical churches and so the cycle continues and the people remain unreached.

A fact you may not have heard before is that Italy has the second-lowest Bible literacy rate in all of Europe. In the very country where Roman Catholicism originates (and dominates the land), and from where it goes out, there is an extremely high rate of Biblical illiteracy. The reading of the Bible was actually illegal in certain regions of Italy up until a few decades ago. After it became legal, few ever bothered to pick it up.

The problem here is that many people have two erroneous understandings of the Bible.

On one hand, they think the Bible is not clear and that only a priest can read it and understand it. If you're an evangelical and you've been born of the Spirit of God, you know, that the Bible is indeed clear and able to be understood. It's actually a light to our path for everyday living. Spurgeon once commented that even a simple plowman armed with the Word of God by simply reading it is more capable than any of the Pope's in interpreting it soundly...

The Bible indeed is very clear. Jesus criticized the religious leaders of His day for not understanding the Word as they should have. To Jesus, the written Word was intentionally made clear and able to be understood and trusted. God desires to communicate to us His Word and His will. He's given to us the written Word in a way that is understandable for us if we apply ourselves by His grace. With a little bit of study, it can be well interpreted and understood.

Now there's danger also in reading the Bible and taking it out of context. This is a real problem today in many evangelical circles, but this is no fault of God's clear Word; it's a fault of sinners not taking proper care to have a Biblical hermeneutic.

The truth is that we need God's Word. It's food for our souls. We can't go long without the Word of God if we really are Christians. It's an erroneous thought that the word of God is unclear. It's very sad that the average Italian has believed this lie.

Secondly, we would argue for the sufficiency of Scripture as well. The average person here in Italy today would argue that the Bible is not sufficient. They've been taught that apostolic tradition is necessary. There is the word of God and right next to it in authority is the apostolic tradition. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the two of them go together to reveal what God wants us to know. The problem is that apostolic tradition often changes, depending on the pope... The written Word of God, however, does not change. It's for this reason that God has given us His Word in the written format - it doesn't change in the course of time. It's the word of God that abides forever. In this way, we can study it, analyze it, know it, and live according to God's revealed will, which like God Himself, does not change.

The tragedy in places like Europe is that they have the Word of God, but believe it is not authoritative, clear, sufficient, and without error. As a result, they're not reading it nor hearing it faithfully taught in the places where it should be. Our big prayer is always to get people simply reading the Word of God because it is so clear, it is so powerful, and it penetrates the heart and transforms the mind. There is great power in the Word, inspired by the Spirit of God, breathed out by God the Holy Spirit, and accompanied still today by God the Holy Spirit. Our greatest desire is always getting people to pick up and read the Word for themselves. The Spirit and the Word do the rest.


Typically when missionaries go to lost tribes they are either persecuted or warmly embraced. They are persecuted because all unregenerate people are slaves to sin and enemies of God and therefore are not interested in the things of God or the people of God who come and proclaim. At other times they are often warmly embraced because they bring medicine and tangible help.

Missionaries going to tribes in the jungles must often endure a lot of suffering from the bugs, animals, and difficulties of living off-grid and from the land. They lack many modern and normal necessities. Yet they also come to the people groups with little pills that can take away their pain or heal maladies. As a result of helping with tangible needs like this, the door is opened for them to also proclaim the Word to receptive ears. Often people groups like this will hear and believe and convert to Christ. Missionaries to places and people groups like this have a great blessing even though the work is hard. It's hard to be sustained in those kinds of places, and it's very hard to do translation work. This kind of missionary work takes a lot of sacrifices, but it's very important and rewarding because it's the only way to get these tribes to know Jesus and receive His Word in their own language.

Italy, on the other hand, is a little bit different. In Italy, you will rarely be persecuted, but at the same time, no one typically wants you here if you are a missionary. When you come to Italy as a missionary they're not excited to receive you. They will not welcome you because you're bringing something they don't have like medicine or clothes. The average Italian actually thinks he eats better and lives better than you do as an American! They're not excited like maybe a tribe would be when you can bring them pills that they don't have. We cannot offer them something physically.

Here's the point.

In Italy, by necessity, we have to be about Biblical missions through the pure proclamation of the Word of God and the Gospel, through evangelism, disciple-making, and church planting.

We must get right to the heart of the matter. When working in Italy, there's nothing we can really offer them that they don't have except for maybe teaching English. We get right to gospel proclamation, evangelism, and church planting, but this is a beautiful thing because it means we don't risk being sidetracked through doing good deeds. Many missionaries in other places get sidetracked and caught up in building schools or digging wells (good things), but then miss the true mission of evangelism, discipline, and planting churches.

We have a unique challenge here. The nature of this context is Roman Catholic, even post Catholic, but it's also very much secular, agnostic, and atheist. We don't have bugs and jungles and cannibals and things like this, but we do have the spiritual jungle here of Roman Catholicism, atheism, agnosticism, and secularist culture. The challenge that we have here is that of living in a spiritual jungle. Our hope and power are in the Gospel itself because it's the Gospel that is the power to save.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. - Romans 1:16

So even though they have the word of God in Italy in the Italian language, our greatest need is for more missionaries to come to evangelize and preach and teach the Word which they have but do not know. Italians in Italy are an unreached people group even though they possess the Word of God in their language. We must apply ourselves to the bringing of the gospel to the lost, evangelizing individuals, groups, and families. Only in this way will more people be saved, disciples made, churches planted, and lives transformed by Jesus to live as salt in light in every area of society. When more Biblical churches are planted the Word goes forth never to return void. To God alone the glory.

Are you interested in joining in on the action?

Consider the numerous Avenues (vie) of Involvement at PMc!


Written by Jesse Schreck

Taken from episode 260 of Missions Incorporated, the podcast of PMc


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