This is an article from the January-February 2002 issue: Which Peoples Need Priority Attention

Which peoples need priority attention?

Those With the Least Christian Resources

Which peoples need priority attention?

Editor’s note: This is the first report of the Research Track of the Un­reached Peoples Consultation to be held in Singapore at the end of Oc­tober later this year. The authors hope to encourage similar strategy re­ports related to the major blocs of unreached peoples.

The Bible frequently draws attention to the complex mosaic of peoples who compose the human race. In the Great Commission found in Matthew 28, the command of Christ is to ‘Go and disciple all peoples’ (panta ta ethne). In Reve­lation 7 the completion of the Commission is shown to John as ‘a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb’ (NRSV). A primary challenge for mission research today then is to describe the current realities of that Commission as accu­rately as possible. In both World Christian Encyclopedia (WCE, Barrett, Kurian, and Johnson, Oxford University Press, 2001) and World Christian Trends (WCT, Barrett and Johnson, William Carey Library, 2001) we carefully examined the status of the world’s peoples in relation to the gospel of Christ. The following tables are derived from our publica­tions, especially Part 8 “Ethnosphere” in WCE and Parts 18 and 28 “Ethnolinguistics” and “Geotargeting” in WCT.

A list of the world’s ethnolinguistic peoples

Utilizing censuses, informants, published and unpub­lished reports, and scores of other sources, we first built a list of the world’s ethnolinguistic peoples. The list was best constructed by intersecting two other lists, (1) the world’s 395 eth­nocultural families, and (2) the 13,509 languages found in the newly-published The Linguasphere Register (Dalby, 2001). This approach yielded a list of 6,600 cultures and 12,600 ethnolinguistic peoples. The latter is defined as ‘a people in one country with a unique race code and a specific language as a mother tongue.’ One example is Turks in Turkey speaking osmanli. Our list appears in its entirety, alphabeti­cally by country, then by ethnolin­guistic people, in WCE, Part 8.

Measuring Christians and evangelization

For each of the ethnolinguistic peoples it is possible to de­termine their religious composition. Although some peo­ples are entirely Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc., many peoples have multiple religious affiliations. For example the Chechen of Russia are 63% Muslim, 21% atheist, and 16% nonreligious. Our analysis of religions was accom­plished through the use of church membership rolls, cen­suses, numerous other sources, and a careful distribution of the known national situation into a country’s constituent peoples. Part 8 of WCE presents a global survey of 12,600 peoples by percentage affiliated Christian and other reli­gions.

For Christians, an important follow-up to understand­ing the religious situation of a people is to determine what evangelistic resources are available and in use among that people. Fortunately most of these resources are language-based and therefore can be readily matched up with a list of ethnolinguistic peoples. Thus we know that although the Jesus film is available to the 190,000 Armenians in Iran, it is not yet available to the 1.1 Bakhtiari in the same coun­try. On the other hand, in Nepal, the 13 million Eastern Pa­hari have a whole Bible in their mother tongue, the 700,000 Newar have only the New Testament, the 640,000 Awadhi have only Gospel portions, and the 28,000 Thami have absolutely nothing.

Measuring 20 or so such evangelistic resources, we de­veloped a formula for estimating the number of evangelized individuals in any people. This is explained in detail in WCT, Part 24 “Microevan­gelistics”, pages 756-757. The results are shown in Table 9 below in col­umn 7, E% (percent of this people evangelized). This measurement is the basis for our tripartite analysis of the globe, namely Worlds A (less than 50% evangelized), B (50% or more evangelized but less than 60% affiliated Christian), and C (60% or more affiliated Christian).

Which peoples are untargeted?

With 20 or so measurable resources for evangelism it is possible to construct a scale related to the number of resources among each people. In WCT, Part 28 “Geotargeting” we do so by exam­ining the presence or absence of 24 basic ministries. Here we de­fine an untargeted people as one with less than 15 basic min­istries. These are given the target code ‘1’ (T=1). The range of codes is shown above in Table 1. The codes correspond to the num­ber of basic ministries among a people (e.g. 1.05 means 5 basic min­istries among that people). Thus, the list of 815 untargeted peoples is compiled by finding those peoples in the list of 12,600 peoples in Part 8 “Ethnosphere” who have less than 15 basic ministries (i.e. T= 1.15). The 815 peoples are listed below in Table 9.

Understanding the 815 untargeted peoples

A series of tables below reveals significant patterns among the 815 untargeted peoples: Table 1 shows the distribution of these peoples by Target code. Table 2 lists the top ten countries by untargeted peoples revealing two major clusters: one in Sudan-Chad and the other in Cen­tral/South Asia. Table 3 illustrates the range of size of these peoples. Note that only 26 of the 815 (3%) are over 1 million, whereas nearly half are 10,000 or under. Table 4 shows their distribution by percent evangelized. All are under 50% and are thus classified as World A or least-evangelized. Table 5 reveals the fact that 77% are majority Muslim (represent­ing fully 95% of the population of all 815 peoples), as are the 31 largest T=1 peoples. Table 6 enumerates the 815 peoples by region, showing that South-central Asia holds a third of these peoples and nearly half of their population. Table 7 presents the untargeted peoples by the macrozone of their mother tongue. (Explanations of this concept can be found in WCE Part 9 “Linguametrics.”) Table 8 does the same by race. Table 9 lists the 815 untargeted peoples. Column 1 is a people’s reference number in WCE Part 8 “Ethnosphere” where more de­tailed information can be found. Column 4 refers to a people’s pop­ulation in AD 2000. Column 5 represents the majority religion of the people where H=Hindus, J=Jews, M=Muslims, Q=Nonreli­gious, T=Tribal religions, and Z=Zoroastrians. Column 6 lists the target code and Column 7 the percent evangelized of each people.

Untargeted in the context of least-evangelized and unreached peoples

The list of 815 untargeted peoples should be properly thought of as a subset of some 4,000 World A (least-evangelized) peoples. It is also a subset of the world’s 10,000 unreached minipeoples. These two numbers and concepts are reconciled in “All Human­ity in Mission Perspective” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement (Winter and Hawthorne, 1999, p. 521). Our list here or in WCE does not delve into the areas of caste, clan or any other finer form of distinction beyond the ethnolinguistic classifica­tion. It is therefore not a comprehensive list of all that remains to be done in frontier missions. There are many World A peoples and unreached minipeoples not on this list without adequate resources or a viable indigenous church.

The continuing challenge of Christian resources

Many readers will be personally familiar with peoples which have lower priority target codes (T=2 to T=10) which nonetheless have great spiritual needs. The Western Punjabi of Pakistan are a least-evangelized people group; however, because they have ben­efited from additional ministries, their target priority is T=3. There are even largely Christian people groups (T=8 or more) who need discipleship. However, this analysis highlights that ministry amongst those peoples, as needed as it may be, is on a different level of need—people in Target 2-10 groups will hear the gospel, if not daily (T=9, T=10), then at least in a generation (T=2). The Western Punjabi children, photographed on page 16, have a chance to hear the gospel in their lifetime (T=3). By contrast, with less than 15 basic ministries, it may take 200 years, and up to 2,000 years, to present the gospel to everyone in a Target 1 group. If you’re the one waiting for the good news, this is just not quick enough.

The list of untargeted peoples then represents top priorities within a larger frontier missions strategy. With thousands of po­tential targets clamoring for attention in the 20th century, it is no wonder that these peoples were overlooked by mission agencies and churches. Unfortunately even today the situation remains much the same. Current mission opportunities are found mainly among already Christian or heavily-evangelized peoples. It is not difficult to see that those peoples with the least resources should receive immediate attention. The starting point is the hid­den ministry of intercessory prayer. The list below is immediately useful as a tool for prayer—asking God to speak to his people to obey the Great Commission by going into all peoples, and espe­cially these. Then, as mission agencies and churches begin to show interest, a new wave of ministries will go where they have never gone before.


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