What is an Unreached People Group?


There are still 3.2 billion people in the world who have never heard about Jesus or the gospel. These people are called “unreached” because they have not been reached with the gospel. And unless someone comes to share the gospel with them, they will never hear about Jesus.

Most of these unreached people live in unreached people groups (UPGs). A people group is a large group of individuals that have the same language and culture.

Joshua Project defines an unreached people group as “a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group without outside assistance.”

Where are the UPGs in the world?

There are still 7,416 unreached people groups out of 17,432 total people groups in the world (42.5%).

Unreached people groups could have a small population of Christians. But it is not enough to reach the people group with the gospel. They need help from nearby people groups and outsiders entering the people group to share the gospel.

unreached people groups map
Map from Joshua Project

This map shows where the unreached people groups are in the world. Most of them are in the 10/40 window. This is the rectangular area of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude. This area includes the majority of the world’s Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.

There are still many UPGs outside of the 10/40 window. Indonesia for example is the world’s largest Muslim country. There are 241 unreached people groups alone in Indonesia.

Unengaged Unreached People Groups

There are still many people groups that have no churches or church-planting teams among them. These are called unengaged unreached people groups (UUPGs). According to the IMB Global Research Office: “A people group is engaged when a church planting strategy, consistent with evangelical faith and practice, is under implementation.” UUPGs are considered a subset of UPGs. Some UPGs are being engaged by missionaries already. But some still are unengaged. No one sharing the Good News among them.

Unfortunately, most missionary teams are in the reached areas of the world. Only 2.7% of missionaries are working among a UPG. There is a massive need for church-planting teams to focus on the UPGs and UUPGs of the world.

The map below shows the number of foreign missionaries (in the thousands). As you can see, there are a significant lack of missionaries in the 10/40 window. Most missionaries are in the countries where there are already a large number of Christians. There is only 1 missionary for every 405,000 Muslims in the world.

missionaries in the world
Map from thetravelingteam.org

Why do we want to reach the unreached?

Jesus’ last words before he ascended to heaven were, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The word “nation” in Greek is “ethne” where we get the English word “ethnic” from. Jesus has commanded us to go to every ethnic group in the world to proclaim the gospel. It is clear there are still thousands of ethnic groups that have not heard about Jesus yet. So by wanting to reach the unreached, we are obeying Jesus’ last command to make disciples among the people groups that have not heard yet.

Paul spent his life proclaiming the gospel in areas where they have never heard the gospel before. “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” Romans 15:20

Jesus also said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:14

It is a promise from God that all the world will hear about the gospel of the kingdom before the end comes. How does one hear the gospel? Someone has to share with them! “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? How can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, ‘How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!’” Romans 10:14-15

We are obeying Jesus when we have his heart to reach the unreached. If someone does not have an opportunity to hear the good news and put their faith in Jesus, they will spend an eternity in hell. Only through faith in Jesus we are saved. “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

When is a people group considered reached?

A UPG is considered reached when it finally has the adequate resources and people to evangelize the people group. This is when over 5% of the population are professing Christians. Even among a reached people group there are different categories.

unreached people groups

There are over 1,000 minimally reached people groups. Superficially reached means there are few evangelicals but the majority of the population identify as Christians. Partially reached is where evangelicals have a modest presence (2-10%). And significantly reached is more than 10% of the population is evangelical. Its amazing that only 18.8% of the the people groups in the world are significantly reached!

How do we reach UPGs?

There are many ministries focused on sending church-planting teams to unreached people groups. 24:14 is a collaborative community catalyzing, multiplying and supporting church planting movements. This network of ministries is working together to urgently engage every unreached place globally. They work with urgent sacrifice and focus on every people group and every place until the Great Commission is accomplished.

Effective engagement of an UPG starts with pioneering efforts within the country. The team is committed to long-term ministry within the language and culture of the UPG. They focus on sowing the gospel which will hopefully lead to a church-planting movement (CPM). A CPM is a movement where churches multiply exponentially to the 4th generation. Once a CPM reaches the 4th generation it is considered self-sustaining.

In Indonesia, there are mobilization ministries that are sending teams of Indonesian believers to UPGs in the country. These teams will be far more effective than a team that is from another country. They already speak the national language and will have an easier time learning the heart language and culture of that UPG.

Church-planting movements are movements of God. People cannot change the hearts of others. Only God can. He calls us to preach the Good News and disciple others. He is the one who will change the hearts of people who do not know Him. That is why prayer is the most crucial part of reaching a UPG. We need to call on God and ask Him to soften their hearts. There has not been a CPM without a movement of prayer first.

man in airport with suitcase, about to board a plane

Who can go to the unreached?

Anyone! Jesus’ command is for all believers. If you have a desire to take part in reaching UPGs, first start with prayer. Start praying for the nations and unreached people groups. Joshua project has a UPG of the day that you can pray for.

Pray and ask God how He wants you to be part of the Great Commission. Is He calling you to be an intercessor for those who have never heard and for missionaries working among them? Is He calling you to support a missionary or give to a ministry working among UPGs? Or is He calling you to go? There is a huge need of faithful believers committed to learning the language and culture and working with a church-planting team. This also includes training national believers to share the gospel and plant churches among their people.

If God is leading you to go on a short-term trip or move overseas, ask Him where He wants you to go and with what ministry. There are so many biblically sound ministries that are focused on the unreached. Reach out to one of these ministries and look into a short-term trip in an unreached people group. Work alongside and support the long-term missionaries there.

Whatever God calls you to do, be obedient and faithful. Not all of us are called to move to the other side of the world. But we are called to share about Jesus wherever we are. Even in your city, there are many unbelievers who need the gospel. Be intentional with your family, friends and neighbors who do not have a relationship with Christ.

There are also many people from UPGs who are living in America either as international students or refugees. Find these people in your city to develop friendships and share about the love of Christ with them.

woman praying in field of flowers

How to pray for UPGs

There are so many ways you can intercede for UPGs. Choose a time each day to pray specifically for the nations. Pray for unreached people group of the day the during that time. Prayercast has prayer videos for every country and many UPGs in the world. If God is breaking your heart for a specific country or UPG, learn more about the needs of the people and specific prayer requests. Connect with missionaries working among that group and join in praying for their ministry.

Adopt a UPG

You and/or your bible study or church can “adopt” an unreached people group to pray regularly for. Do research about that unreached people group. Where are they located? What are their lives like? Are there any church-planting teams focused on reaching them? What are their specific needs? Visit Joshua Project to see all the unreached people groups and detailed information about each one. You can connect with long term workers among that people group and even plan short term trips to do prayer walks and share the gospel with the people.

The Harvest is Plentiful but the Workers are Few

Jesus’ words in Luke 10:2 are true even today! The need is great. There are 3.2 billion people who are without hope and living in darkness in this world. We are called to shine the light of Jesus in every nation!

You can start today by praying, giving, or going (even if its sharing Jesus with your neighbor!) Pray for God to raise up more workers for the harvest field. Pray that this is the generation that rises up and finishes the task by bringing the gospel to every unreached people group in the world. God wants to use you for His Kingdom work! Are you willing and ready to say “Here am I. Send me!”?