LDS Growth Encyclopedia on Missionary Work and Church Growth (Missiology)

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Unreached Countries

Author: Matt Martinich


Unreached countries include nations that neither have a ward, branch, or group functioning nor a known official or unofficial LDS presence.  The Church does not extend any official missionary activity in unreached nations and many of these nations do not pertain to a mission.  These countries remain a priority to outreach to fulfill the divine commission of Christ to take the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people as approximately 390 million people reside in unreached countries, or six percent of the world's population.  Christians do not comprise the majority in most unreached countries; Christian-majority nations rank among the least populated unreached nations by the Church.  In 2012, there was only one predominantly Christian country with over one million people that was unreached (East Timor or Timor-Leste) with only 1.2 million inhabitants.

In mid-2012, there were 33 sovereign countries without an LDS presence; 16 in Sub-Saharan Africa (Burkina Faso, Chad, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Somalia, and Sudan), six in the Middle East and North Africa (Algeria, Iran, Libya, Palestinian Territories, Syria, and Yemen), four in Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), four in East Asia (Bhutan, Maldives, North Korea, and Timor-Leste [East Timor]), and three in Europe (Liechtenstein, Monaco, and San Marino).  Provided with 2012 population estimates from the CIA World Factbook and world population ranking, the three most populous unreached countries are Iran (78.9 million people; 18th most populous), Algeria (35.4 million people; 35th most populous), and Sudan (34.2 million people; 37th most populous) whereas the three least populous unreached countries are Monaco (30,510 people; 216th most populous), San Marino (32,140 people; 213th most populous), and Liechtenstein (36,713 people; 212th most populous).  25 of the 35 unreached countries have at least one million inhabitants.  In August 2012, nine of the 35 unreached countries were assigned to a full-time mission (Bhutan - India New Delhi Mission, Equatorial Guinea - Democratic Republic of the Congo Kinshasa Mission, Liechtenstein - Alpine German-Speaking Mission, Maldives - India Bangalore Mission, Monaco - France Lyon Mission, San Marino - Italy Milan Mission, Sao Tome and Principe - Mozambique Maputo Mission, Sudan - Uganda Kampala Mission, and Timor Leste - Indonesia Jakarta Mission).

The Church does not have a presence in unreached countries for a variety of reasons.  Most unreached countries experience low levels of religious freedom.  Muslims constitute a strong majority in 23 of the 35 unreached countries and Islam strongly influences government and legislation in most these nations.  Consequently there is little, if any, tolerance for Christian proselytism and the conversion of Muslims to non-Islamic religions.  Several unreached countries exhibit good conditions for LDS missionary activity but possess relatively tiny populations that are not within close proximity of countries with a strong LDS presence.  It is unclear why some other countries remain unreached by the Church as proximity, small population, political instability, and government restrictions do not prevent a church establishment.  A lack of mission resources and vision from area and mission leaders appears responsible for no LDS presence in these locations.

Conditions to establish an LDS presence were once more favorable in several nations but the Church missed its opportunity to gain a foothold before political and religious freedom conditions deteriorated.  For example, there were few restrictions to proselyte and send missionaries to several Central Asian countries (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) in the 1990s but the Church failed to initiate missionary activity in all three of these nations.  At present there are no realistic prospects for the Church to establish a presence in any currently unreached Central Asian nations due to the decline in religious freedom and the increasing influence of Islam on government.  If the Church fails to establish a presence in other unreached countries without insurmountable religious freedom restrictions, the Church may miss its window of opportunity.  For example, the Church may not be able to establish a presence in Mongolia today if the Church did not act in the early 1990s when political conditions were more favorable as religious freedom conditions deteriorated during the 2000s and early 2010s.  Other proselytizing Christian faiths such as Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses have more aggressively established a presence worldwide when opportunities to enter new nations arose.  Consequently Adventists and Witnesses report a presence in all but approximately a dozen countries notwithstanding both these denominations based in the United States and being founded decades after the LDS Church.

Opportunities to establish an LDS presence appear most promising in countries where government and society permit nontraditional Christians to proselyte the indigenous population.  In 2012, these countries included all six Christian-majority unreached countries (Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Liechtenstein, San Marino, and Monaco), six tolerant Muslim-majority unreached countries (Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Senegal, Guinea, the Gambia), and two countries where there is no religious majority (Chad and Guinea-Bissau).  Missionaries stationed in nearby countries visit Liechtenstein, San Marino, and Monaco periodically to meet with isolated members or teach investigators.  These three city-state countries experience religious freedom but their tiny populations make the assignment of full-time missionaries infeasible due to few mission resources and low receptivity in the region.  However, holding cottage meetings and organizing groups for church services may be warranted to improve outreach and spur growth.

In addition to unreached countries there are also unreached territories or dependencies.  Territories and dependencies pertain to a sovereign country but receive some aspects of self-rule and autonomy.  In mid-2012, there were 17 territories, dependencies, or overseas collectivities with populations over 1,000 without an LDS presence; seven in North and South America (Anguilla, Montserrat, Saba, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and Sint Eustatius), four Oceania (Christmas Island [Australia], Norfolk Island, Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna), four in Europe (Aland Islands, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, and Svalbard), and two in Sub-Saharan Africa (Mayotte and Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha).  Nearly all of these locations experience widespread religious freedom and have predominantly Christian populations, but tiny populations that are not within close proximity to current mission outreach centers deter outreach.