‘Last Mile’ Efforts to Reach Unreached People with God’s Word
Just as transportation logistics refer to the challenge of the “last mile” for delivering a package to the recipient, so mission and bible translation groups face the challenge of the “last mile”—effectively delivering the Gospel and the Scriptures to those who have not yet received them.
To overcome this “last mile” challenge, church planting and discipleship ministries are harnessing and advocating new technologies and strategies to finish the task and reach “unreached people” with the Gospel and Scripture in their own language.
Estimates vary, but many agree that at least 30% of the world’s population has no access to the Gospel, often because of the hostile environment in which they live.
Significant progress has been made in reaching unreached people since Ralph Winter estimated in the 1970s that 17,000 people groups had not yet heard the Gospel. Today, that unreached group consists of over 7,000 people groups in 672 provinces around the world, according to Justin Long, the director of research for Beyond.
The goal of 2414, a coalition of church planting movements including Beyond, is to reach those people groups with a model that will have a lasting impact. Its name is based on Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”
As part of its goal to contact every unreached people and place by the end of 2025, the 2414 team utilizes data collection and analysis. Long says he has built trust with a network of church planting networks around the world.
He collects, collates, and analyzes data from the network members. He then finds gaps in the geographic areas where no Gospel engagement has happened, apprises the local church planting team of the apparent gap, and then the team begins the outreach.
The COVID pandemic and other disasters have impacted data collection over the last couple of years, but even with those impediments, Long says 2414 groups are well on the way to meeting the 2025 goal. At least 1,965 teams have seen church planting movements established, he added. A movement is defined as four generations of churches, not simply one church being planted.
“It is getting to every starting line,” Kent Parks, Beyond’s president and CEO told MinistryWatch of the 2025 goal. “God has called us to make disciples, so by 2025, we want to at least get to them.” But 2414 doesn’t intend to stop there.
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Instead of the historic cross-cultural missionary model, the church planting model utilized by 2414 works with well-established local church networks to engage nearby cultures and start movements.
“These are obedience-based disciples who are reaching groups and communities that already share something in common,” Parks explained.
“We’ve seen amazing breakthroughs in places we can’t name, very restricted places. It is amazing to see,” he added.
Strategic Resource Group (SRG) has been funding outreach and mission work in the Middle East for 20 years. As it reviewed the projects it has funded during that time, it found most of the projects were focused on proclaiming the Gospel.
While critically important, SRG founder Paul Schultheis believes that new technologies, social media, Middle East TV, and other avenues have made the Gospel accessible in these often hard-to-reach places. He considers the next mile in ministry to the Middle East to be “discipleship, church formation, and leadership development.”
So SRG has shifted its allocations to focus on projects that engage in these three goals, which are more risky and difficult given the closed nature of most Middle Eastern countries.
Discipleship and successful church planting networks for both SRG and 2414 include solid, quality translations of the Bible so Christian converts can grow and disciple others.
Translating the Bible
Stan Parks, Global Facilitation Team for 2414 says a model of bible translation developed by the Antioch Family of Churches has tremendous potential to provide much-needed bible translations at a fraction of the cost.
He says the seven-step process is crowd-sourced, computer-aided, and expert-assisted. Local church leaders identify and qualify local language experts who are trained and equipped to do the translation work. Computers are used to facilitate the translation, and experts provide assistance through translation principles and guidance about particularly challenging passages of Scripture.
Parks says the process can produce a New Testament in two to three years at a cost of between $20,000 and $30,000. The translation is then checked by the local church community; often at least 500 people read it for effectiveness.
The process has been implemented in North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia with over 100 full or partial translations completed and another 50 or more being planned.
They’ve been well received by the local communities, Parks said, but not so well-received by the Bible translation community, which often spends millions of dollars and years on one translation alone.
Another Bible translation model being used to reach the most difficult to reach peoples, especially in the Middle East, is spearheaded by SRG.
Schultheis explained that the initiative uses translation service providers (TSPs) to translate the Bible.
Sitting by his fireplace one evening, Schultheis considered all the documents and books that are translated around the world on a regular basis. “Why not the Bible?” he thought.
So SRG proceeded to contact providers to gauge interest. Some were afraid to do it, given the targeted countries and languages.
By using already established agencies, the model eliminates hurdles like translator recruiting and training delays that often accompany other translation processes.
Three trained translators work on each project, completing about 7,200 words per day, he said. The Bible is between 720,000 and 750,000 words—however, many of those words are repeated. The translation service providers don’t charge extra for repeated words. The total cost for a translation is about $400,000.
This figure is far less than the cost of Bible translations done by legacy methods. A recent study by the Sagamore Institute found that the 11 organizations in the illumiNations network spent just under $1 million per Bible translation — and that did not include “support costs” that were likely many millions more.
Before release, the translations completed using the TSP process go through a theological and linguistic review. As part of quality control, the service provider is only paid 85% of the total until all corrections are completed.
SRG completed a pilot project and the translation was considered high quality. Now it hopes to complete 34 more full written and oral translations in the next five years.