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Why Focus on Small Individual Unreached People Groups When There Are So Many?

Bashgali / Kalash 15,000 people
Kalash / Bashgali 15,000 people

This past week we had the pleasure of having Duane F. of the Joshua Project in our office. Duane is concerned and confirms what I have been hearing more and more;  Individual unreached people groups are too small and numerous to focus on. I have also heard things such as “small people groups need to be merged back into the languages they speak” and “unknown groups should to be removed from the databases when we don’t have enough information on them.” Consider this. Half of all the worlds known people groups are under 25,000 in population and one quarter of all the worlds people groups are below 2,000 in population. Many of these groups are small and we have little information on them. So what do we do about it?

Many are focusing on people clusters and are not in any way moving away from the individual unreached peoples. However the purpose of this article is to help bring a balance to those who might be losing their enthusiasm or focus on individual peoples. I also want to take the opportunity again to highlight small unknown people groups. Remember that our enemy only wants to divert us one inch so that five years from now we are completely derailed. So if you find yourself less and less concerned with individual people groups this article is for you.

Because of the size and lack of information on small unknown people group, I am seeing a trend to move toward focusing only on people clusters. Not everyone, just a few. But these few happen to be very influential people and this is what concerns me. I believe in people clusters and affinity blocs but let’s not go to the extreme. There are good reasons that we need to focus on them but we cannot go as far as marginalizing or removing small individual peoples groups from our data. People clusters are simply a group of many ethnic peoples that share something in common, culture, language, geography. Some examples would be the Kurds or the Berbers or Rajputs. Those people clusters have hundreds of individual people groups within them. So we have some options. We can focus our efforts on clusters, or on large individual people groups or on small individual groups or all of the above. We shouldn’t go to one extreme or the other. Why focus on individual unreached people groups when there are so many?

First of all, There are more small people groups than there are large people groups.

These photos are of an unknown people group called the Kalash or Bashgali. There is confusion about how many people groups there are and what languages they speak etc. See:  [1] [2] [3] [4 video] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] Research is still needed in order for missionaries to reach all the different groups. We need to remember that we have not yet identified all the people groups and languages. The Joshua Project will soon be exceeding 10,000 people groups. The number of people groups is slowly increasing because we are finding more and more. The addition of peoples and languages is discouraging to us missionaries. It is especially discouraging when we are trying to count down to the last unreached people group, or when we have an inner desire to see the Great Commission finished in our lifetime. The latter is not a bad thing as long as we don’t try to hide the real numbers of unreached peoples or Bible translation needs in order to achieve our goals.

Do we need to have every people group in our database? Yes. Some would say it is impossible to have every people group in our database. That is true. However we need to have as many people groups as we can in order to highlight them, profile them, promote them and send missionaries to them. I would suggest that the large peoples, especially those over 100,000 already have something going on, we just don’t know it. It’s because we have highlighted them the most. As a result many missionaries are going to people groups where something is already going on. A people group where I live has two entities translating the Bible for them (two translation efforts).

If you want to go to a people group and be almost for certain that no one else is there, choose a small people group. What is small? Well, half of all the worlds people groups are under 25,000 in population so I don’t know if we can consider those groups small. One quarter of all the worlds people groups are below 2,000 in population. Are they small? I don’t consider them small when they are one quarter of all the known peoples. But for now, we will consider under 25,000 people small. Missionary sending efforts will be continue to be duplicated if we keep sending to the larger people groups, those over 100,000 in population. In the meanwhile those who have never had the chance to hear will be waiting and perishing. We cannot keep duplication from happening but we can lower it by doing two things, keeping the small people groups in our databases and by highlighting them. We need an app called “Small Unknown Unreached People of the Day”.

It is more likely that someone will provide data on small groups if we keep them on the radar. 

It is important that we keep adding all the people groups that we can now. New groups are going to be small. The large groups are already identified. In fact many of the large people groups are not people groups, they are clusters of many people groups. Furthermore, we need to keep small groups on the radar because in many cases, they are not as small as reported. Occasionally it is to the advantage of the government to hide numbers of people groups during a census.

We cannot expect the next generation to go to the small people groups if they are not on the radar. The next generation must be taught to take into consideration people groups of all sizes. We cannot get into the habit of removing seemingly insignificant people groups no matter how little information we have about them. It would do all researchers some good to get out and walk among five or six small unknown unreached people groups. A population of 5,000 people doesn’t seem like a lot when you are looking at a spreadsheet. It is a little different when you get out an walk through their villages. I live three hours from a large cluster of unreached peoples all with small populations. Come down and I will personally take you to them. It doesn’t matter how small or unconfirmed they are. We need to hold on to them. If we do, it is more likely that someone will provide more data on them. 

It is hard to believe that these tiny groups are really all ethnic peoples with specific missionary sending needs until you live and work around them. It took me ten years to believe it. I had travel among them hearing all the missionaries and linguists talk about the realities. A few months ago, Jim C. from the Global Research Department of the IMB came to our office. One of the reasons he came was to verify from researchers, missionaries and linguists that all these small people groups and their languages really exist. It is hard to believe that there are over 170 languages and an unknown number of people groups in our area. He couldn’t believe it just like I couldn’t believe it 10 years ago. It is very common to think that way. There are only five other areas in the world as complex linguistically and ethnically.  We tend to doubt it until we hear it from experts and experience it for ourselves. We also have an enemy and that enemy does not want us to believe that there are so many people groups. Jim was impacted to know from the experts that all these languages and peoples are real.

Some say, we just can’t deal with all the people groups, there are just too many!

This is not correct thinking.  It means that we need to get to work. It is very common to hear about the immense task of reaching the unreached peoples. I wonder how God sees it. God probably cares not about how many groups there are. The task is not quite so immense when you take into consideration the number of up and coming missionary candidates. We may need to stop talking about is as though it is almost impossible.

Let’s look at the numbers. There are an average of 10,000 people groups between all your major people group lists.

< 1,000,000,000 — 9,200 Which means that there are only 700 people groups over one million in population. The majority of our effort has been focused on only 700 people groups.
< 500,000 — 8,500
< 100,000 — 7,350
< 50,000 — 6,650
< 40,000 — 6,400 This population range is what the Finishing The Task movement is focusing on now. Possibly came to find out that the people groups over 40,000 in population already had something going on. This would make sense as we have highlighted those groups more than the smaller groups.
< 25,000 — 5,800 This is significant. Half of the worlds’ 10,000 people groups contain less than 25,000 in population.
< 10,000 — 4,600
< 5,000 — 3,600
< 3,500 — 3,200 This is the cut off for a people group to get a Bible Translation from Wycliffe. Almost one third of all the worlds known peoples will not get a translator unless smaller translation agencies or individuals go. They are called salvage projects. We pray that they will lower their number.
< 2,000 — 2,600
< 1,000 — 1,900
< 500 — 1,300
< 100 — 450

There are approximately 5,000 unreached people of the known 10,000 groups of the world. I was not going to add the population of these small people groups. This is the general tendency. One might say well, the groups under 25,000 only total up to 31,321,000 of the worlds population. Many will stop reading right here but this is not God’s way nor is it the Great Commission. I am going to tell you the total population of all the people groups under 2,000 as well. But remember that Jesus taught that we go after the one lost sheep. Luke 15:4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? (New International Version) The total population of the 2,600 people groups under 2,000 is 1,694,000.

They unreached because we have been ignoring them for the masses, trying to play catch up to the explosion of Islam. They are simply unknown to the Christian church. We don’t pray for them, we don’t research them, we don’t write elaborate people profiles about them. we don’t take photos of them because they are insignificant “in our minds”.

We tend to look at a people list or people group book and are drawn to the groups with higher populations. Now many influential people are calling us to leave this part of the people list behind and only focus on large clusters of peoples. Small people groups are just to numerous?  We have too little data on them? These don’t sound like very good reasons to me. I guess it is time to put on our walking shoes then or do something about it. The numbers of these groups are not going to shrink. And the longer we wait to highlight the unknown people groups, the more of them will parish for lack of a chance to respond to the Gospel.

I took a look at Patrick J’s new book, The Future of the Global Church. One view is that the population of the world will level off over the next few hundred years. This would be great news to the Christian Church. We could possibly catch up to the birth/growth rate of Islam. Another view is that the population will double and then double again over the next few hundred years. If this is true, we will have done better to abandon clusters and focus on unreached people groups.

The Church is in a crisis today because we are unwilling to send missionaries at a pace that can compete with the population growth and the growth of false religions. It only means that billions will parish. I was in a meeting a few months ago with nothing to do so I spent a few hours running some numbers. This is a rough estimate but, if we continue to focus missionary sending to the masses and clusters etc, 16 Billion people will parish every century until the end comes. The last enemy of God is not the Devil it is death. Death seals the fate of those without Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.”[c] Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

Don’t we want to see the end? The end of death? The end of suffering? People say that us unreached people promoters don’t care about the social gospel. We care more than most because we care about bringing the end. Bringing the end will save more lives from hell than by trying to play catch up to the Muslims.

There are not that many unreached peoples if we consider all missionary movements. 

The missionary movements in the global south, are producing thousands of potential missionary candidates and we say 5,000 unreached people groups and say they are just to numerous? I realize that there are more than that. But even if there were double that number it would not be such a huge task if we would just focus. I remember many times when Duane F. and I went line by line through thousands of records in the people group database. We used to say, it’s only 10,000 records. We only need 60,000 missionaries. This 60,000 would take care of all the unknown people groups, clan tribes and castes as well as the missionary fallout.

In the Latin mission movement where I live and minister, there are at least two million Evangelical Christians who know what unreached peoples are. The statistics are that 2% of Christianity know about the Great Commission but only 2% of that 2% will take action. In the Latin missionary movement that calculates up to 40,000 missionaries candidates, 8 missionaries for every unreahced people group. Add in the missionary movements in Africa and Asia and 60,000 missionaries is a drop in the bucket.

So the task is not so immense when you take into consideration the emerging missionary movements. Clusters are a strategic point to land in, but one will have to focus on the people groups in that cluster eventually. So if we still say, “The individual people group is far too small and too numerous” pray about itWe must stay the course and not give up on highlighting and researching the individual unreached peoples. They are depending on us.

Related Article: How Etnopedia Deals With People Clusters