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How Many Unreached People Groups Are There?

This conversation posted on on Lausanne Conversations for Cape Town 2010  – See conversation.

How many unreached people groups are there? Well, we don’t know. Because of advancing technology we think we should be much further ahead in unreached people research. Unfortunately technology won’t help us much. We still need field researchers among unreached people groups. More importantly we need socio-linguistic field researchers, those looking for new (unclassified) languages.

Last month I was at a researchers meeting in Colorado Springs where I talked with the Wycliffe/SIL coordinator for socio-linguistic research of South East Asia. He says that there are about 100 languages that are still not classified in China, and another 300 in Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

A few years ago I visited with two young ladies who were doing socio-linguistic research (looking for new languages) in Papua New Guinea. The said that each language they re-researched (with a larger word list) became two and sometimes three languages.

I attended the Lausanne World Researchers meeting in 2008 where I met two of the principle people group researchers for India. One of them says that there are 4,000 people groups in India and another says 5,000. Our current global list only has about 2,500. Needless to say, there is some apprehension and conflicting opinion about adding another 2,000+ unreached peoples to the task..

What we need to do is identify all the barriers to the flow of the Gospel, either by understanding (language) or acceptance (cultural/political/geographical) and then mobilize thousands of cross-cultural missionaries. We can continue to mobilize them without sending them specifically into unreached Bible-less peoples like we are now. But this will only prolonging Christ’s return and we will be further behind as population explosion and other major world religions gain ahead of Christianity.

There is Hope. Unreached people group researchers are trying harder to work together and make this information available and even in other languages. It isn’t an easy process but progress is being made. See: http://www.joshuaproject.net and http://wwwpeoplegroups.org and http://www.etnopedia.org

There are also some exciting new cutting edge Bible translation methods coming on the scene. One is called “Translator’s Reference Translations” (Matthew E. Carlton S.I.L.) His methods cut the translation time down to about half after one learns the language. Learning the language still takes as much time as it ever did and ever will. 

The oral movements such as Story Runners and Gospel Recordings Network are also doing many great things. However even with these new advances, cross-cultural missionaries will still have to be sent and they will still have to spend years on the field learning the language of the unreached people. There is no quick fix. We still must physically go to into the people group and learn their language. Globilization will not solve this problem for us. Most of the smaller Bible-less people groups are under 100,000 in population and will never migrate to larger cities, and even if they did, you wouldn’t be able to find them much less identify their language. There are no scriptures in their language thus no Jesus film.

Unreached peoples represent the poorest, most isolated, rejected, scripture-less peoples in the world. UPG’s are not just a catch phrase, they are nearly 2 billion people who have no access to the message of Christ. They are God’s top priority and in New Testament terminology they are called “the ends of the earth”.

To the ends of the earth, every tongue, tribe, people, every corner of the globe, to all creation, making disciples of all nations,, call this what you will. The Lausanne Movement is all about World Evangelization!

ESTIMATED PEOPLE GROUP NUMBERS
I see that there are many visits to this conversation, and I would imagine that people want to know some estimates. So I will give some numbers of the peoples groups in the varying databases. Note: These numbers are the people groups in the databases not divided by each country they live in. For example if you divide the people groups by each country they live in, the Joshua Project database will show about 16,000 peoples. These numbers are about a year old but not much has changed. Remember these numbers are the people groups we know to exist, excluding India which has not really been dealt with on anyone’s data.

World Christian Database = 8,699 people groups.
Southern Baptist Convention (CPPI/GSEC) = 8,313 people groups.
Harvest Information System = 10,609 people groups.
Joshua Project  = 9,763  people groups.
Mission Info Bank = 10,600+ people groups.
Etnopedia = 10,280 people groups.
SIL Languages = aprox. 8,200 languages

By David M.