This Ultimate Guide to Unreached People Groups will help you understand what an unreached people group is, why they are significant, where they are located, and how you can pray for them and reach them.
In order to understand the significance of unreached people groups, it’s important to know what people groups are and why they are significant.
In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus said to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations“. The word nations in the Greek is ethne where we get our English words ethnic and ethnic group from. So the Great Commission isn’t just about making disciples of anyone, it has an ethnic group focus.
Learn more about God’s Heart for the Nations.
Missiologists have applied this concept of ethnic groups to Christian missions by looking at the how the gospel spreads throughout the world and have coined the term people groups to delineate where the spread of the gospel encounters a significant barrier. This could be based on ethnicity, but the gospel also encounters linguistic barriers (different languages), geopolitical barriers (different nations), and cultural barriers.
Classifying the world into people groups in general, and reached and unreached people groups in particular, helps us understand where the gospel is, where it isn’t, and its likelihood of spreading between peoples.
UPG vs UUPG vs FPG
What is the difference between a people group (PG), an unreached people group (UPG), an unengaged unreached people group (UUPG), and a frontier people group (FPG)? Read on to learn about these important distinctions!
What is a people group (PG)?
A people group is not just a group of people! It’s not a “group” of your lost coworkers, it’s not the “group” of the lost people that live in your neighborhood, and it’s not an age demographic such as “the youth”.
The term “people group” was coined to study the spread of the gospel on a global scale.
The most commonly used definition of a people group came out of the Lausanne Committee meeting in 1982 in Chicago.
For evangelization purposes, 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.Joshua Project
These barriers are often combinations of language, geography, geopolitical boundaries, ancestry, history, religion and caste.
If that still seems ambiguous, a few examples may help. The spread of the gospel runs into a significant barrier when:
- people speak different languages or dialects
- there’s a geopolitical boundary (people live in different countries)
- there’s an impassable mountain range or large river between peoples
- people are from different castes (they don’t often interact)
There are two main organizations that have organized and categorized all of the people groups in the world – Joshua Project and the IMB. How they delineate people groups is slightly different, so that has led to a different number of total people groups in the world.
As of January 2023:
- Joshua Project says there are 17,446 people groups in the world.
- The IMB says there are 12,031 people groups in the world.
What is an unreached people group (UPG)?
Now that you know what a people group is, let’s talk about what makes a people group unreached.
An unreached or least-reached people is 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.Joshua Project
The most widely-used and simple metric for delineating an unreached people groups from a regular people group is that unreached people groups are less than 2% evangelical Christian.
Contrary to popular belief, most people in unreached people groups have heard the name of Jesus. Muslim people groups account for almost half of all unreached people groups and Jesus is one of their most revered prophets! These people groups are unreached because the vast majority of their population don’t “confess with their mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in the heart that God raised Him from the dead.”
Why did missiologists (people who study Christian missions) draw the line at 2%? There is considerable debate over this number, but they found that 2% is the critical mass where a people group could evangelize itself without outside help. Having this distinction is helpful because it gives missionaries and mission organizations a target list of people groups to focus on reaching.
What is the difference between an unreached person and lost person?
A lost person is simply anyone who does not confess Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. There are lost people everywhere! They can be in regular people groups or unreached people groups.
An unreached person is a lost person in an unreached people group. While there are unreached people groups in most countries, over 97% of unreached people live in the 10/40 Window.
What is an unengaged unreached people group (UUPG)?
An unreached people group is considered to be unengaged when there is no known active church planting initiative working among that particular people group. The primary purpose of this term is to help identify which unreached people groups need a strategy and missionaries on the ground to reach them.
UUPGs are a subset of UPGs, but there is conflicting data about how many UUPGs remain in the world. According to peoplegroups.org, there are 4,047 UUPGs in the world with a population of approximately 383,000,000. But Finishing the Task’s Global Report says that only 144 UUPGs remain in the world with a population of less than 3 million.
What is a frontier people group (FPG)?
A frontier people group is an unreached people group that has 0.1% or fewer followers of Jesus and no confirmed, sustained church planting movement among them.
If there was a people group that had a population of 10,000 people, an unreached people group could have up to 200 believers, but a frontier people group could only have up to 10 believers. Frontier people groups are the unreached of the unreached and deserve special attention!
Learn more in Pray1040’s Ultimate Guide to Frontier People Groups.
“Slow drip” your learning and prayers for the 38 largest frontier people groups in the world with Pray1040! Receive a new prayer profile each week covering the 38 frontier people groups that have more than 10 million people. Each profile takes 5-10 minutes to pray through.
Where are unreached people groups?
97% of unreached people are in a geographic rectangle called the 10/40 Window (aka “The Resistance Belt) which is made up of countries in North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia.
Learn more in Pray1040’s Ultimate Guide to the 10/40 Window.
Pray1040 makes it easy to learn about and pray for 10/40 Window countries! Take 5-10 minutes each week to learn about the geography and history of a different 10/40 Window country each week, then pray along with a local believer for their country using the Prayercast video!
It can be hard to imagine what it would be like to be in an unreached people group, especially for people coming from relatively “Christianized” places like the United States.
Below is a graphic representation of the saturation of Christians in a people group (green people represent evangelical Christians). The first graphic represents the American people group and the second graphic represents an unreached people group.
You can look at these graphics in a couple ways:
- Imagine yourself as one of the people below and your social circle includes the 50 people closest to you. How many Christians are in your social circle?
- What is the likelihood that you would encounter a believer in your lifetime that you would get to know on a personal level?
American People Group
Unreached People Group
As much as America is trending toward higher percentages of “lostness”, the lack of access to the true gospel experienced by people in unreached people groups is simply on a different level.
Missionaries going to UPGs
Considering the great gospel need of unreached people groups, you would think the majority of Christian missionaries would go to UPGs. But the opposite is true! For every 1 missionary that goes to a UPG, 30 go to reached peoples and places. This is called “The Great Imbalance“.
Learn more about The Great Imbalance.
Money going to UPGs
Similar to the Great Imbalance of missionaries going to unreached people groups, there is a Great Imbalance of money going to unreached peoples and places. For every $50 given to global missions, only $1 goes to the unreached.
Learn more about The Great Imbalance.
Ensure your giving actually makes it to the unreached!
Join believers around the world giving at least 1% of their income directly to the people and projects reaching unreached people groups.
Let’s take a pop quiz. See if you know the answers to the following questions.
What is the largest unreached people group in the world?
Which religion is followed by the most UPGs?
Which region of the world has the most UPGs?
Which country is the most unreached? (trick question)
Read on to learn the answers!
The Shaikh of Bangladesh is the largest unreached people group in the world with 133,000,000 people. The Japanese people group is a relatively close second with 118,000,000 people.
Below is a map of the 24 largest unreached people groups in the world with more than 20 million people.
And here is a table of the 24 largest unreached people groups in the world with more than 20 million people.
|Rank||Population in UPG||Country||Country|
|9||37,456,000||Java Pesisir Lor||Indonesia|
The cartogram below shows land mass size based on population and is shaded based on percent evangelical to more accurately display the neediest places in the world. India quickly jumps off the map as having the largest population that is the most unreached, north India in particular.
By Religious Bloc
Islam and Hinduism have the most UPGs by religion.
Below is a table showing the number of unreached people groups by religion as of January 2023.
|135||Other / Small|
We have also made a map showing general concentrations of unreached people groups by religion below.
Asia is the continent with the most number of UPGs (75%) and most population in UPGs (86%).
Below is a table showing the number of unreached people groups and population in unreached people groups by continent.
|UPGs||Continent||Population in UPG|
The region of South Asia has 50% of the world’s UPGs and 53% of the world’s UPG population. South Asia includes only 6 countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal Bhutan, and Sri Lanka.
Below is a table showing the number of unreached people groups and population in unreached people groups by region.
|UPGs||Region||Population in UPG|
|497||West and Central Africa||182,187,000|
|390||North Africa and Middle East||275,021,000|
|355||East and Southern Africa||121,808,000|
|260||Eastern Europe and Eurasia||23,320,000|
|166||North America and Caribbean||18,009,000|
|69||Australia and Pacific||1,863,000|
How would you answer the question, “What country is the most unreached?”
The answer really depends on how you you look at it. Is it the country with the:
- most UPGs? (India)
- most population in UPGs? (also India)
- highest percentage of population living in UPGs? (tie among Morocco, Western Sahara, Maldives and Afghanistan)
The tables below list the rankings for most unreached country based on these three metrics.
With 2,135 UPGs, India is the country with the most unreached people groups.
Below is a table showing the top 22 countries with 50 or more unreached people groups.
|Rank||UPGs||Country||Population in UPG|
See the full list on Joshua Project.
Most population in UPGs
With over 1.3 billion people living in unreached people groups, India has the largest population living in unreached people groups.
Below is a table showing the top 24 countries with 20 million or more people living in unreached people groups.
|Rank||Population in UPG||Country||UPGs|
See the full list on Joshua Project.
Highest % of population in UPGs
Maldives, Afghanistan, Morocco and Western Sahara all have 100% of their population living in unreached people groups. That doesn’t mean there are zero Christians living in these countries. It means that it is estimated that there are fewer than 5 believers for every 10,000 people.
16 countries have more than 99% of their population living in UPGs, with a high concentration in North Africa.
Below is a table showing the top 37 countries with 90% or more of their population living in unreached people groups.
|Rank||UPGs||Country||Population in UPG|
|17||98.9%||West Bank / Gaza||5,186,000|
See the full list on Joshua Project.
By Affinity Bloc
Below is a table showing the number of unreached people groups by affinity bloc as of January 2023.
|UPGs||Country||Population in UPG|
|3,939||South Asian Peoples||1,819,125,000|
|429||Southeast Asian Peoples||138,909,000|
|172||East Asian Peoples||217,226,000|
|84||Horn of Africa Peoples||61,350,000|
|0||North American Peoples||0|
Christian Persecution among UPGs
Make no mistake about it. Satan wants to keep unreached people groups unreached.
It is not a coincidence that the 97% of the world’s unreached population lives in the 10/40 and the vast majority of the top 50 countries experiencing Christian persecution are in the 10/40 Window (according to Open Doors’ World Watch List).
Pray for the persecuted church with Pray1040! Take 5-10 minutes each week to learn about and pray for a different country on the World Watch List!
How you can reach unreached people groups
Reaching the world’s remaining 7,425 unreached people groups will require 3 things:
We want to see you get involved in all 3 ways!
We believe we have created the most engaging and sustainable way for Christians to pray for the UPGs of the 10/40 Window. Spend 5-10 minutes per week learning about and praying for one (or more) of the following:
Let us help you develop the habit of praying for the unreached on auto-pilot!
We are physically located in the 10/40 Window and connected to many groups seeing incredible fruit as they are pursuing church planting movements among the unreached. This vantage point gives us a unique view into the most strategic projects out there that are actively reaching the unreached.
Here are the projects we are crowdfunding for right now:
Movement Leaders Training
Disciple Making Course
UPGs by Country
Want to give to all 3 projects at once?
Even though there is a Great Imbalance of money and missionaries in the church going to the unreached, the Lord is doing incredible things as His people pursue church planting movements among the unreached!
Check out the Go section of our Get Involved page to explore opportunities for you to go to the nations!
The global church today faces a significant challenge in reaching the 3.2 billion people in the world’s remaining 7,425 unreached people groups. These UGPs are historically resistant to accepting the gospel, Satan is fighting hard to keep them unreached through persecution, they often live in remote, hard-to-reach areas, and there is relatively little money and relatively few missionaries going to reach them.
But that hasn’t stopped God before!
Remember, the 2+ billion Christians in the world today all started through the work of Jesus’ disciples. China has gone from almost no Christians to around 100 million in 50 years, India is being reached by Indian church planters at an astonishing rate, and church planting movements are happening at an increasing rate.
All of this work is undergirded by the prayers of believers around the world who have taken up the mantle of praying for God’s Spirit to move in mighty ways among the unreached.
Get Involved with us reaching the unreached today!