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Research Chatter

Reflections on People Group Thinking by Bill M.

These are thoughts From Bill M. in August of 2009;

The people group paradigm is most useful when the following conditions are met.

a. Individuals strongly identify with others of the same ethnicity, culture, religion, and (usually) language.
b. People groups are well-defined, not amorphous such as “Americans”, or “Germans”, or “Thai” or “South Asians”.
c. Individuals in each people group are not in close proximity to those in other people groups, not intermingled. Communication between groups is uncommon, and friendships across boundaries are few.
d. Society holds a firm view as to where individuals “fit”, frowning on easy transitions of status.
e. Important decisions are usually made within the people group context, as group decisions.
f. Individuals acquire information from elders and approved sources within the people group.

Conversely, the people group paradigm is less useful under these conditions.

a. Individuals do not strongly identify with only one ethnic group or culture or even language.
b. Individuals may identify themselves by nationality, more so than by a particular ethnic group.
c. Individuals may identify more strongly with certain social networks than with an ethnic group.
d. Individuals live in proximity to those of other ethnicities and languages and social status, and may be intermingled.
e. Society allows people to freely change status.
f. Decisions are often made as individuals acting alone, and may be influenced by one or more social networks the individual is part of.
g. Individuals acquire information from any number of sources, not only from approved sources.

Consequently, people group thinking loses usefulness in these situations.

a In urban settings
b. In large groupings with ill-defined boundaries, such as Americans and Russians, etc.
c. In situations where “globalization” is occurring (intermingling of peoples, easy access to information, people being cut loose from their roots, etc.)

The problem, for Joshua Project

Joshua Project’s goal has always been to catalyze pioneer church planting among unreached people groups. But what if the people group paradigm is losing usefulness?

Surely the people group paradigm has much life left in it. There are many areas of the world where it is very appropriate, including the 10/40 Window. It will be needed for the foreseeable future, but should we consider providing an alternative focus for pioneer church planting?

But is “pioneer church planting” even appropriate as a goal in the newly emerging paradigms? I’ll assume it is, for the moment at least.

What are the possible targets for pioneer church planting in the new paradigms?

1. Social networks.
2. Geopolitical units (e.g. city blocks or neighborhoods, counties, PIN codes, etc.)

Are social networks really practical for this purpose?  They are so fluid, ill-defined, one individual may change networks over time, and may be in several networks simultaneously.  How could we gather data on something like that? It doesn’t lend itself to databases.

I’m not sure I see an alternative to geopolitical units, in the new paradigms. They are well-defined, very identifiable. They lend themselves to databases. Census data is available, to some extent.

My thinking is leading me to the DAWN vision of saturation church planting by geopolitical unit, for tracking progress in the new paradigms.

Should Joshua Project consider providing two parallel perspectives?

1. People groups
2. Geopolitical units

YWAM is already setting out to provide #2, with their Omega Zones. Maybe the JP focus should not extend beyond #1, and we leave it up to YWAM or some other effort to provide what is needed for the new paradigms.

How would we acquire the data for #2?

I’ll stop here.