What is an “unreached people group”?

If you have spent much time in a church that prioritizes global missions then you have probably heard talk about the priority of sending missionaries to unreached people groups. This is a great priority but I think at times those advocating for this priority forget that some of these terms may be unfamiliar to many in the church. I have been guilty of this myself when, as a missionary, I spoke to fellow believers about the importance of working with unreached people groups without taking the time to explain some of the terms I was using.

So, let’s talk a little bit about “unreached people groups” and define what we are talking about.


The world is like a waffle, not a pancake

I once heard a helpful illustration about the spread of the Gospel from a former pastor. Many Christians think of the world like a pancake and the Gospel like maple syrup. The Gospel pours out and simply spreads easily all over like maple syrup spreading out over a pancake. The problem is that the world is more like a waffle than a pancake where you pour the syrup and it gets stuck in all the little squares. It doesn’t easily spread out unless it can get past the little walls around each square.

We can think of people groups like the individual squares of the waffle. As defined by the Lausanne Committee, “a people group is the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.” Like the waffle, there are barriers that prevent the natural spread of the Gospel and many of these barriers are language or cultural barriers.

A people group is not primarily a nationality but rather a group defined by common ethnic, cultural, and/or linguistic characteristics. It takes special effort for the Gospel to go from one of these unique people groups and spill over into another group. It often doesn’t happen naturally and requires special effort to get past the barriers into the next square of the waffle.


Reach out and touch someone

Most people will probably understand the word “unreached”; these people groups have not been reached by something. But what exactly are they unreached by? Explorers? Coca-Cola? The Internet? AT&T…reach out and touch someone? No, when we talk about “unreached” or “least-reached” people groups we talk about people groups that have not really been penetrated by the Gospel.

The Joshua Project, an incredible missions website, defines the term 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.” There may be some debate over how many believers are “adequate” but for their own research, the Joshua Project uses a figure less than or equal to 2% Evangelical Christian and less than or equal to 5% Professing Christians. So, it’s not necessarily a group with no Christians, although it may be, but rather a group in which the church cannot grow and the Gospel cannot spread without outsiders coming in to help. Often these outsiders are missionaries.

So, there you have it, “unreached people groups” are those ethnic or linguistic groupings of people in which there are not enough Christians to sustain self-reproducing churches, and so Christians from outside the group itself must come to help.


Ten Largest Unreached People Groups

The Joshua Project estimates that there are 7,035 unreached people groups. Yikes! There is still a lot of work to be done in taking the Good News about Jesus to each of these groups. Below is a list of the ten largest unreached people groups. Please pray that these people will hear about Jesus!

People Group


Population Language


Shaikh Bangladesh 137,062,000 Bengali Islam
Japanese Japan 120,723,000 Japanese Buddhism
Shaikh India 84,720,000 Urdu Islam
Brahmin unspecified India 59,401,000 Hindi Hinduism
Yadav (Hindu traditions) India 58,776,000 Hindi Hinduism
Turk Turkey 55,448,000 Turkish Islam
Chamar (Hindu traditions) India 51,620,000 Hindi Hinduism
Rajput unspecified (Hindu traditions) India 45,348,000 Hindi Hinduism
Han Chinese, Xiang China 38,312,000 Chinese, Xiang Ethnic Religions
Sunda Indonesia 37,570,000 Sunda Islam


Will you be the one who goes?


Learn More

As mentioned above, the Joshua Project website is the most comprehensive website I know of to learn about the many people groups of the world.

Another great website is Operation World which is arranged by country but includes other useful information as well as prayer suggestions.


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