At Bethany Global University, we are preparing our students to take the Good News of the Gospel into the hardest and darkest places of the world. Our desire is to raise up a generation of mission-minded Christians who are going to bring the unreached people groups of the world into the throne room of Heaven through their own personal witness and testimony of God’s goodness. Before we can send out missionaries to these unreached people, however, we have to know where to find them. If we want to fully understand how to most effectively reach these people, we must first determine who they are.
What are People Groups?
In order to discover who the unreached people groups are, we must first answer the question “what defines a people group?”. There are seven specific criteria that distinguish one people group from another: language, culture, geography, religion, ethnicity, self-identity, and socioeconomic status.
With over 6,000 spoken dialects in the world today, we can easily see how language causes a great divide between people groups. When we speak the same language as another person, we can communicate with them and engage in a conversation. However, when we have little to no idea what the other person is trying to communicate to us and no way to respond, it automatically causes a fairly large barrier of division. There are a small number of people groups who speak multiple languages yet still consider themselves one ethnic group – for instance, the Dinka of Sudan. However, this is a very rare occurrence as the large majority of people groups are separated by language barriers.
A second thing that separates one people group from another is something called a cultural divide. Perhaps the best definition of this term can be found in the best-selling book “Cultural Divides: Understanding and Overcoming Group Conflict”. In this, the authors define cultural division as “a boundary in society that separates communities whose social economic structures, opportunities for success, conventions, styles, are so different that they have substantially different psychologies”. This means that the impact that your specific culture has on your worldview is so significant that it can separate you from other people who come from a different culture.
The geographic location of a people is a major factor in the separation and distinction of people groups. When you are separated by distance, it is very difficult (nearly impossible) to take part in or be considered a member of a people group that is many miles from where you are. For instance, I can not be considered a member of the Han people group in China if I am sitting over 7,000 miles away in America – the geographical distance is far too great of a separator.
Religion is perhaps one of the biggest separators between people groups. This has been seen time and time again throughout history as people groups have claimed a specific religion and often rejected others from their group who do not take part in it. Groups whose members are identified by a common religious background are often referred to as ethnoreligious people groups. These groups often define their identity by a combination of both ancestral heritage and religious affiliation – for example, the Jewish and Sikh people groups.
The term ethnicity is defined by Dictionary.com as “a social group that shares a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like”. In other words, an ethnic group is one that regards itself (or is regarded by others) as a distinct community that is separated from the remainder of the surrounding community because of specific characteristics such as the ones mentioned above. These characteristics define both individuals and the people group to whom they belong.
The term “self-identity” refers to the way in which a person identifies himself and the people group that he belongs to. For instance, I identify myself as an American because I grew up in the USA and, therefore, I am associated with the American people – they are a part of my identity. Similarly, someone who was born into a Jewish household and raised in Israel would identify themselves as a Jew because that is the people group that they belong to. It’s all in the name!
Another way that people groups are often identified and separated is by their social and economic standing. This concept which is often referred to as “socioeconomic status”, is defined as “an individual’s or group’s position within a hierarchical social structure” (Dictionary.com). There are many factors that determine a group’s socioeconomic status, such as occupation, wealth, and education.
What does it mean to be unreached?
Now that we know what determines a people group, we can take a look at what makes a specific people group “unreached”. An unreached people group, as defined by the Joshua Project, is “a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group without outside assistance”. In other words, an unreached people group is one in which there is no significant community of native believers and no successful means of church planting, evangelism, or discipleship.
Another term that is often used to describe these unreached people groups is the term “least-reached”. While these two terms are often used interchangeably, the distinct difference between the two terms is that those who are “least-reached” have at least a small amount of believers among the natives, whereas “unreached” have little to no believers.
What are the criteria for an unreached people group?
There are specific criteria that we use to determine an unreached people group which is as follows: there are “less than or equal to 2% Evangelical Christians and less than or equal to 5% Professing Christians” (Joshua Project). This means that in a people group of 41,000, we would only look for two percent of the population to accept the Gospel in order to take them out of the “unreached” category. Two percent of 41,000 people – that would only be 820 people!
It is difficult to estimate exactly how many people groups are in the world today but our best guess, calculated by Joshua Project, is 16,543 people groups. Out of these, there are 6,701 unreached – that is 42.1% of the world’s people groups that have never heard or accepted the Good News of Jesus Christ!
The majority of these unreached groups lie within the 10/40 Window, which is a metaphorical “window” that looks over North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East (located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator, which is where we get the name). This area contains the largest majority of Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist believers in the world. There are an estimated 5,574 unreached people groups in the 10/40 Window – which is roughly 83% of the unreached people groups of the world! The real tragedy is that only 3% of missionaries are currently working in the 10/40 Window.
Why is this problem occurring?
Why are there still so many unreached people groups? Why are most mission agencies and churches spending the majority of their budget working with people groups who have already been taken out of the “unreached” category? There are many reasons for this lack of reach: security, persecution, legal issues, lack of opportunity, and finances (just to name a few). Although all of these things are legitimate problems that need to be addressed, many Christians use these challenges as an excuse to stay home. We often tend to shy away from going to the hardest and darkest places because we don’t want to step outside of our comfort zones. The real problem with this excuse-driven mindset is that it is the opposite of how we are meant to view the world as followers of Christ. If we are looking at the world with a Kingdom mindset, then it should be our greatest desire to go to these hard places so that the world can know Jesus.
Every follower of Christ has a role to play in the Great Commission – it was not a mandate given to the fully equipped, but to the poor in spirit. There are many different ways to participate in seeing the Great Commission fulfilled; you can go out on the field as a missionary to the unreached, send out other missionaries through your work at a missions agency or church, support a missionary (or multiple missionaries) financially, and pray.
How does prayer help in fulfilling the Great Commission if there is no physical action put with it? Here at Bethany Global University, we believe that there is extreme power in prayer. In fact, Jesus tells us in Matthew 21:22 that “if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer”. One of the most important things that we can do to see the spread of the Gospel and the fulfillment of the Great Commission is to be in constant prayer and intercession for the unreached people and the missionaries who are going out to see their position change.
One way that you can do this is by participating in Bethany International’s 30-Day Global Prayer Challenge, during which we will be praying specifically for the many unreached people groups in the world. When you sign up to be a part of this challenge, we will send you a free prayer map to get you started and daily notifications to keep you on track – find more information at https://bethanyinternational.org/prayer/
The unreached will remain that way until we do something to change it. What can you do today to see the lost come home?