Global Missions 101

Before we begin talking about Global MIssions with Kids, we’ll set the framework with a few days talking about Global Missions: what is it? why do we do it? and where do we do it?

global missions 101

What is Global Missions?

“Missions is what God does through His people, the church, to spread the gospel through word and deed to all people of the world” (Wanda S. Lee).

Missions is “an enterprise devoted to proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, and to persuading men to become His disciples and dependable, reproductive members of His Church” (Donald McGavran, Understanding Church Growth).

My own definition: Global missions is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ cross-culturally through words and actions, so that people from all nations will believe and follow Him.

Global missions…

  • is focused beyond our own culture or people group.
  • has a spiritual purpose. It’s not just service or good deeds. But, it
  • certainly includes service and acts of love and compassion. We don’t just limit “missions” to the proclamation of the gospel without also addressing physical needs of the people we serve.
  • is the job of every Christian in every place (something we’ll address more tomorrow).
  • is not something only missionaries do.
  • is not something that only happens in other countries.
  • is carried out by every Christian in a slightly different way. One of my prayers for this Global Missions with Kids series is that you will learn how God is calling you to serve Him in missions, whether it’s something that happens in your own home or something that involves a round-the-world move, or anywhere in between.

Global missions is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ cross-culturally through words and actions, so that people from all nations will believe and follow Him.

Missions, Evangelism, Service – What’s the Difference?

John Piper makes a helpful distinction between missions and evangelism: “Evangelism is speaking to anyone anywhere the gospel… So saying the gospel to anyone is evangelism. It could your mother or your father.

Missions is doing that by crossing a culture. It usually involves learning a language, learning new cultural things where there is no church in which people are doing evangelism of those in that culture. They don’t have any access to the gospel…

So evangelism is speaking the gospel to everyone, especially those in your culture. Missions is realizing there are cultures and linguistic groups that don’t have anybody in them to do that.”

So, missions always has a cross-cultural element to it. Without the cultural element, it’s just evangelism.

Missions also has a spiritual element to it: the goal is greater knowledge and worship of Christ.  Without the spiritual element, it’s just service. Anyone can do service. Only a Christian is involved in missions.

This is global missons…

  • a pastor moves to a primarily non-Christian country and plants a church there.
  • an Australian Christian family sponsors a child overseas through a Christian community development program. They write letters, pray for the child, and send money to support her family’s needs.
  • a Christian doctor goes to a poor country every summer to offer check-ups and show Jesus’ love at a local church.
  • a retired Christian professor goes to his local public library to offer English as a Second Language classes every Wednesday afternoon. Most of his students are refugees from the Middle East.

and this is not global missions…

  • taking flowers to my Christian neighbor.
  • a non-Christian nurse travels to a country with poor health care on a medical service trip with a secular humanitarian aid group.

Global Missions, Local Missions, and Missions

Global missions = missions. There is no difference. All missions involves crossing a global culture.

The only reason I used the term “global missions” in this series was to be extra-clear to people on the internet that this series is about the whole world.

Sometimes “local missions” is used to indicate cross-cultural ministry that occurs in your own local area – and that’s okay.

But honestly, I don’t think we need that distinction. Global missions may happen at the public school full of immigrants down the street from your house, or it may happen on a short-term trip to another country, or it may happen when a missionary family moves to another continent to serve long-term.

So saying “local missions” could end up being a little confusing, as some people may think taking flowers to my Christian grandma who lives down the street is local missions. (It’s a lovely thing to do, but it isn’t missions.)

So, we won’t use the term “local missions” here, instead saying that global missions can happen here, there, or everywhere.

map courtesy of the Joshua Project
map courtesy of the Joshua Project

What is a people group?

A simplistic way to think of a people group is a tribe.

But a better definition in the context of missions is “the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.”

Most of the time, understanding is the biggest issue preventing the spread of the Gospel – in other words, language. So most people groups are divided up by primary language.

In other cases, cultural acceptance is the biggest obstacle. For example, in some parts of Asia, even people who speak the language may not get along with each other culturally (like different castes in India). So, there is little chance of the Gospel freely spreading among these groups, even though they may speak the same language.

Here are some examples of people groups worldwide:

Some examples of people groups within the United States:

photo courtesy of the Joshua Project

What is an unreached people group?

There are a total of 16,315 people groups in the world. As Christians, we are especially interested in looking at which of these people groups are reached or unreached.

An unreached people group is “a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group.”

A reached people group has an adequate population of believing Christians and resources within the community to evangelize the rest. Usually, this means at least 2-5% of the people group believes in Jesus.

Of the 16,000 people groups in the world, 6,564 of the people groups are unreached, or about 3 million people. This means 40% of the world’s people groups are unreached.

Some of the biggest unreached people groups are the Shaikh of Bangladesh, the Japanese of Japan, Brahmin of India, and the Thai, Central of Thailand.

But, of course, there are many, many other unreached people groups. Many do not have any Christian believers among them, and/or no missionaries or Bibles in their own language.

“For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:13-14)

Further Resources

If you’re interested in pondering the definition of missions more, here are a few helpful articles I found:

And if you’re interested in learning more about people groups and unreached people groups, the Joshua Project web site is a great place to begin.


So, global missions is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ cross-culturally through words and actions, so that people from all nations will believe and follow Him.

And as we’ll see tomorrow, global missions is at the very core of God’s heart.

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

** What is your definition of “global missions”? Leave a comment below.