World people group databases are complicated. They have so many fields and related tables, it is no wonder we have not yet gotten many local mobilization efforts involved in field research. Actually, the global people database has little value without field research driving it. We need field researchers gathering fresh data on the people groups driving mobilization.
So what are the most important pieces of information in a people group database?
1. The people group.
If we don’t know that a people group exists, we will not send missionaries. If peoples are left out of our data for whatever reason, they are not as likely to be reached any time soon.
2. Scale of reachedness. (Does the people group have Christians or Missionaries?)
If we think a people group is reached and it is not, we will not send missionaries. Some call this scale the Christian or Church Planting Progress Indicators.
3. The date that scale was gathered.
If you don’t know how old the progress scale is, you won’t know how reliable the data is and most importantly you wont know when to go back out and gather that data again. We use the last year the scale was updated. Example: Unreached . This year our field research team will be visiting four people groups where the dates are very old. We will be near them for a missions conference so afterward we’ll head out to get some new information. When we come back, we will put  on the people group’s scale. The scales may also change. If we do not date the scale, we will not know how reliable that scale is.
All people group database should have a date on their scales. They also need another field, which is the source of that date.
A date by the scale gives a little more reliability to the data for missionary sending. If you have a source recorded, and that source was in that people group recently, their name or handle should be there. That will give even more credibility to the scale.
4. The Bible translation status. This is also very important and it tells you a lot about how much attention is being placed on the people group. It also means that you will have some evangelistic materials on the way such as the Jesus film and Gospel recordings.
5. The last thing you need for a people group database is their location or approximate location. This can be as little as a Latitude Longitude coordinate or the name of a town.
If you now know that peoples exist and you know that they are unreached, you need to get to them somehow.
Some would say, what about the population of the people group? They are mostly estimates. And what does it matter if the unreached people group still have no Christians, no missionary and no Scriptures? Does it really matter if they are 5,000 or 500,000? They still have no access to Christ. We will never finish the Great commission focusing on the larger people groups. We are in the 21st century and the theory that reaching big groups will trickle down has not proved true. Recently 5,000 Christian leaders gathered together and we called it the largest missionary conference in History. Put 5,000 people in a room and we say it’s a big deal. But when you look at a 10,000+ record database, a 5,000-population people group looks insignificant. Unfortunately it is the smaller groups (those under 50,000) that will be the last to hear about Christ. In the world people databases, 7,000 of the 10,000 records are people groups under 50,000 in population.
Do you need to know their religion? All peoples have a religion or beliefs of some sort. If they don’t believe in Christ they need to. The more data we add, the more complicated the database. So a lot of the other data we add to our databases just creates more distance between global and local research efforts. Locals are the ones that need to be involved in church planting among their own people groups locally.
In summary, we only need a few pieces of information on our people group database; the people group, the scale, the date that scale was gathered, the Bible translation status, and the location. All the other data is icing on the cake. If we have it great! But we need to be careful not to over do it or we will be inadvertently excluding the participation of others in the use of our databases and possibly research altogether.
Less is more. If you have fewer fields in your database, you will be more likely to gather and update information at the country level and much more so at the world level. We will never see a global research effort develop if we complicate the database. Complicating the issue also teaches the local field research effort that they need special technology and training to be involved. If we are ever going to see more field research efforts emerge, we need to keep it simple. Of course there is a certain amount on knowledge one needs. But how much really?
What is field research among unreached peoples anyway? Basically one needs to go and spy out the land. Or you need to talk to someone who was recently in the land. If you cannot find anyone who was recently in that people group, someone needs to walk through all the villages or the people group and see if there are any Christians or missionaries working there. It’s not rocket science. I am over simplifying a bit to make a point. But imaging if we just had this data at the world level, we would be light-years ahead of where we are today. Too many Christian progress scales are old or they are created by formulas based on availability of the Gospel in that country.
We need simple country level people lists that show a date of the last time someone physically checked on the people group’s condition.
We also need to gather this data on the Cloud. See: Working on the Cloud with Unreached People Information.