Christians who truly believe that God is sovereign over all things will lead a life of self-sacrifice for the sake of all peoples. Why is that so? Because true followers of Jesus recognize that the last command He gave us before He ascended to Heaven was to “go and make disciples of all nations”.
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
(Matt 28:19-20, NIV)
Six chapters prior to that command, Jesus told an expert in the law that the two greatest commandments of Scripture were to love God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. I would suggest that we can do neither if we ignore the Lord’s final commission. There are many charities that could be listed that bear the Christian name but do nothing in regard to making disciples. What value is it if we feed the hungry and cloth the poor but never tell them about Heaven and Hell, or the tragedy of sin and the reason for Christ’s sacrifice? What value is it if we are not making disciples for Jesus out of those people whom we help physically, and yet ignore spiritually? Or if we give them food and medicine and yet leave them to a Christless eternity? Whether we are working at home or abroad, the only way that we can be obedient to Christ, in the midst of our charity, is if we are actively making disciples. So, in order to discuss how we are to make disciples of all nations, it is appropriate to define what the Great Commission is. Let’s begin by taking a closer look.
It is important to understand from the outset that what I am about to advocate in no way negates the importance of local missions and local ministries. Local missions and ministries are totally necessary for the church, both as a witness to unbelievers as well as for the edification the church’s own wellbeing. However, there is a great need in the church to confront the fact that global missions have been tragically neglected throughout its history.
The Tragedy of Missions among Muslims
Perhaps the most glaring example of this neglect can be seen in the history of missions among Muslim peoples around the World. Although the trends of failed missions among Muslims are just beginning to be reversed, we must come to grips with the fact that for almost 1,400 years the church’s attempts at reaching People Groups from Muslim backgrounds have been unsuccessful. In David Garrison’s book, “A Wind in the House of Islam: How God is drawing Muslims around the World to Faith in Jesus Christ” he states,
To recap our review of the history of Muslim movements to Christ, in Islam’s first 12 centuries we found no voluntary, and only a handful of coerced, conversions to the Christian religion. Not until the end of the 19th century, twelve and a half centuries after the death of Muhammad, did we find the first voluntary movements of Muslims to Christ that numbered at least 1,000 baptisms. These two movements, the Indonesian movement led by Sadrach and the Ethiopian movement by Shaikh Zakaryas, accomplished what no other Christian had seen in more than a thousand years. 
But as Garrison continues to point out in his book, it wasn’t until the end of the twentieth century we saw these trends being reversed:
… in the final two decades of the 20th century, there was a surge of 11 additional movements. These occurred in Iran (2), Algeria, Bulgaria, Albania, West Africa, Bangladesh (2) and Central Asia (3). By the close of the 20th century, 1,368 years after the death of Muhammad, there had been a total of 13 movements of Muslim communities to faith in Jesus Christ.
It is this long history of frustration, a history that has seen tens of millions of Christians absorbed into the Muslim world that makes the current events all the more striking. In only the first 12 years of the 21st century, an additional 69 movements to Christ of at least 1,000 baptized Muslim-background believers or 100 new worshiping fellowships have appeared. These 21st-century movements are not isolated to one or two corners of the world. They are taking place throughout the House of Islam: in sub-Saharan Africa, in the Persian world, in the Arab world, in Turkestan, in South Asia and in Southeast Asia. Something is happening—something historic, something unprecedented. A wind is blowing through the House of Islam. 
When we speak of strategy in trying to win Muslims for Christ, we need to understand that we are still dealing with virgin territory. The majority of these relatively new movements to Christ in the Muslim World are happening through the expansion of multiplying house churches in countries where Christianity is illegal, where it is banned by society, and where Christians undergo much persecution for their decisions to follow Jesus. Such strategies, which have been effective in those parts of the world where Christianity undergoes much persecution, have not been effective in trying to reach Muslims in the West. This is why at CTU, we believe that in order to be effective in reaching Muslims in the west, it is important to take what has been working in the Muslims World and tweak those strategies so that they become more relevant for our western societies.
Defining “Nations” in the Great Commission
As important as it is to understand what Jesus meant when he said that we are to go and “make disciples of all nations”, it is just as important to understand what Jesus was not referring to. First, let’s understand that the Great Commission was not a command to go and make disciples here, there and everywhere. As important as it is that we share the Gospel with friends and family members that God has naturally put in our path, Jesus’ command was specifically to “make disciples of all nations”. The word translated “nations” is the Greek word ἔθνος, (pronounced ethnos). It can be more accurately translated (all politics aside) “ethnicities” or “ethnic groups”. So then, Jesus was not simply referring to countries, like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Rather he was referring to the ethnic groups within those countries.
A country like Pakistan, for instance, would be considered to have nine major distinct ethnic groups, which can then be broken up further and added to other smaller groups to make a total of 414 people groups in Pakistan. It is important to understand that, in this context, Jesus was not saying that we are to go and make disciples of Pakistanis in general. Rather, the term he used would have referred to the 414 people groups within Pakistan, of which only 5 have a Christian witness. 
So, in looking at this term “ethnos” (the term Jesus used for the groups we are to make disciples out of) it is important to define what we mean by an ethnic group. For missional purposes the term “people groups” is used to distinguish the context of the term “ethnos”, in the way that Jesus used it in the Great Commission, from broader contexts such as what a sociologist might mean when he uses the word “ethnicity” today. Thus, a “people group”, when used strictly as a missiological term, means “the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.”  It is very important to understand that a people group does not refer to a group that is defined by social status, occupation, education level, political affiliation, or economic status.
While people groups can be defined by various combinations of ethnicity, language, religion, caste and geography, they are not defined by occupation, social status, education level, economic status or political affiliation…. A people group is not the same as a group of people. 
The power of "people group" imagery to focus people’s strategic thinking began to be used to re-define all kinds of strata of society as a "people group." So, young people, the disabled, prostitutes, or taxi drivers in certain cities (which are actually segments or a strata of society) began to be defined as a "people group."
Factually, a "people group" is a collection of inextricably linked strata. For instance, a large ethno-linguistic/ethno-cultural people group will have youth, urban, rural, rich, poor, disabled, etc. At the end of the day, however, a young person or a taxi driver or a disabled person is in familial and societal relationships with other kinds of people from other strata of the society [and are not people groups]….
So, a "people group" may have a variety of defining factors which might include ethno-linguistic or ethno-cultural/religious elements, and may legitimately have unique elements (such as caste factors in India) but it will consist of various strata.
There has been much confusion in the western church about how we are to apply the Great Commission to the preaching of the Gospel due to the wide misinterpretation of what Jesus meant by the word “nations”. When Jesus said that we were to “make disciples of all nations” he was not speaking about “professionals in Chile”, to name an example. Professionals in Chile are an example of a smaller strata within a larger people group. Thus, when Jesus commanded us to make disciples of the “nations” he was referring to those larger people groups within which the Gospel would be able to spread without encountering cultural barriers of understanding or acceptance.
When is Enough, Enough?
This begs the question of when enough is enough. When have we made enough disciples to satisfy Christ’s command in any particular people group? In practical terms (and in accordance with our previous definition), this can only happen once the Gospel has taken enough of a foothold within a people group that it can spread within that people group without any outside interference. At that point it becomes the primary responsibility of the church within that people group to share the Gospel among their own group.
The most commonly accepted criteria for a people group to be qualified as Unreached, and therefore still in need of an outside witness, was given by the original Joshua Project editorial committee. They suggested that any people group with less than or equal to 2% Evangelical Christian and less than or equal to 5% Professing Christians should be considered Unreached. Joshua Project goes on to explain that some of this reasoning was based on articles published by sociologist Robert Bellah, from the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, in Psychology Today in the 1970s, but more recently quoted in Christianity Today. There is much more to be said about this, but this should suffice for the purposes of this paper.
Defining “Disciples” in the Great Commission
The second term in the Great Commission which we should clarify before we can discuss strategy is the term “disciples”. What did Jesus mean by using this term in His first century, Jewish context?
Much of this is explained right in the Great Commission itself when He says we are to “baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. This was an initiation in which the new believer is to be immersed and surrounded into the Trinitarian community – it was not simply dunking a person in water. Following this, Jesus tells us we are to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20 NIV). As Brian Jones wrote on Seniorpastorcentral.com (in a follow up to his article entitled Why Euthanize Small Groups):
Discipleship is not about teaching people Jesus’ teachings, but it is about teaching people how to obey Jesus’ teachings. In fact, that’s probably the simplest definition of a disciple I can give: A disciple is someone who knows and obeys Jesus and his teachings.
Who cares if someone can lead a small group discussion on worry? People become disciples in the presence of someone who can teach them how to stop worrying, from experience, by the power of Jesus.
The meaning of the word “disciple” in Jesus day was not what many have come to associate with that word today. A disciple in Jesus day would probably best be described by our word “apprentice” today. Merriam-Webster describes an apprentice as “someone who is bound by indenture to serve a [skilled master] … with a view of learning an art or a trade”.