There is much to be said to the group or individual desiring to sponsor and support a people group movement. When we do this we are choosing to help bring about that which is closest to God’s heart… “that none should perish, but that everyone come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Nothing we can do on earth carries eternal consequences except what we do to work for or distract from the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. But, where does one start? How does one select a people to adopt? How does one select a mission agency with whom to partner with? Does one select the mission agency first or the people group? If every church or fellowship were the same the answer would be simple and straight forward. Even so, just as every individual is unique so is each local church. However, there are some general guidelines that each church can apply to itself.
Let us begin with some definitions. A People Group refers to any number of individuals who perceive themselves as sharing the same culture, language and values of life. For the purpose of adoption, a people group has:
(1) A Proper Name-an identity either self-received or assigned.
(2) A Location-where significant numbers of that group can be identified geographically.
(3) A Need-which for our purposes is the need they have for an indigenous church.
In addition, a people group is considered adoptable for one or more of the following reasons:
(1) The people group has not heard the good news of Jesus. The Gospel has not been proclaimed to them in an understandable or adequate way or form. (Matthew 24:14; Acts 19:10; Romans 10:14)
(2) The people group has not responded. They do not believe that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, or that the Bible is God’s Word, nor do they live accordingly. (Matthew 7:26f; Matthew 13:19; Acts 2:37-38; I Corinthians 1:21,25; Hebrews 3:18-19)
(3) The people group does not have a church. Believers are not gathering together regularly for worship, teaching, and outreach. A church movement has not yet been started. (Acts 2:42-47; Acts 16:5; Romans 15:20-21; Colossians 2:6-7)
(4) The people group does not have the Word of God translated into their mother-tongue. Written, audio or visual translations of God’s Word that are culturally acceptable, have not been completed. (Acts 2:6-8; 37-38; Revelation 5:9-10)
(5) The people group does not have the Word of God readily available. There are practical and/or legal restrictions to distribution. A large percentage of the people may be illiterate. (John 17:17-20; Acts 19:20; Romans 10:17; Colossians 3:16; II Timothy 3:16-4:1-4)
In summary, an unreached people group is one where there are not adequate numbers of believing Christians among that people and/or resources to evangelize their own group without requiring outside (cross-cultural) assistance.
If you are committed to a particular agency, call or write them and ask which unreached peoples have the highest priority, and the process can begin. Regardless of your situation, here are some basic questions to ask yourself and discuss within your fellowship or church.
1. What size group would you want to adopt? 1,000,000 or more; 500,000 to 1,000,000; 100,000 to 500,000; 50,000 to 100,000; under 50,000 people?
2. Do you want the people to be accessible to your church? Surprisingly, many unreached peoples are accessible to outsiders. Would you ever want to send a tour group, prayer team, or short-term mission to your adopted people? Many unreached peoples aren’t accessible to Westerners due to location and political restrictions. However, even though an unreached people may be inaccessible they still need to be adopted.
3. Do you want to adopt a Bibleless people? Do you want the challenge of seeing a people group reached who is also Bible-less? Or, do you want to adopt a people who already has a written language and/or have the Word of God available in part or in whole?
4. Do you want to adopt-a-people that lives in the 10/40 Window? Most of the unreached peoples there are very resistant and culturally difficult to reach. They are referred to as the “core of the core” of the unreached peoples.
5. Is there a particular part of the world you are drawn to? Is there a particular part of the world or a country where you already have connections? Many of
the unreached people groups live outside of the 10/40 Window. 6. Is there a particular type of people you are most interested in? The unreached peoples can be grouped. There are Chinese, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Animist (tribal) peoples.
7. Do you want to adopt a people which already has missionaries working among them? Some may want to adopt a people where there is no or very little Christian mission activity. Others may want to adopt where the mission process is well under way. Your church or denomination may already support missionaries/tentmakers working with an unreached people.
8. Are there any natural church ties? Do you have any natural business ties with an unreached people? For example, if some in your church are employed by an oil company, then they might be able to secure jobs in the Middle East among an unreached people. If there are medical personnel in your congregation, they might be able to go overseas using their medical profession. In one church, the pastor’s brother was working among an unreached people, so the church chose that group for adoption.
Conclusion. Finally, in this process of selecting a people group to adopt, always keep this in mind: An unreached people group is one that does not have enough Christians within it to cause the expansion of the gospel to occur there without outside help. A people group adoption then would be the introduction of life and growth in which the gospel of Jesus Christ would be taught, churches planted and on-going Christian work established and supported. The goal is for the local people of the unreached group to grasp the vision and begin to carry out the work themselves. Therefore, the work should eventually become autonomous, indigenous and self-perpetuating.
There are many mission options open to local churches. Almost always it will take many different mission approaches to reach a people group. The effort may require Bible translation, radio broadcast, literature and Scripture distribution (audio or written), evangelism and discipleship training, Christ-centered relief and development, and of course church-planting. Churches and fellowships may want to develop relationships with several mission agencies. Each one specializing in a particular type of work. Again, our goal is to initiate an autonomous, indigenous and self-perpetuating church-planting movement, not to support mission agencies. The mission agencies exist to serve the church in its mission to fulfill the Great Commission among the unreached people of the world.
If a large number of Christians already reside within the proposed people group, likely a healthy Christian evangelical movement can be started there. This is the key consideration, as the people will respond far more openly and eagerly to their own kind then they will to “outsiders”; even their fellow countryman who are not of their tribe are regarded with suspicion.
There are many factors when considering choosing and adopting a people group. Remember to keep focused on the ultimate goal of sharing the love and hope of Jesus to a lost and dying world. Ask the Lord of the harvest to direct your every step. Together we will see every nation, tribe, people and tongue brought before the glorious throne of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May it happen in our generation!
From The International Journal of Frontier Missions (http://www.ijfm.org/), Jan 01, 1995, Volume 12:1, pp. 33-34.