Unreached People Groups Priority Matrix Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can you explain the categories of the UPG Matrix and how they are weighted?

The list is sorted using an overall significance score based on a matrix of weighted factors including a people group’s population size, amount of Christians, amount of ministry being done, amount of churches started, the global significance of a people group’s presence in a city, and their global status of evangelical Christianity.

In effect, the Matrix prioritizes frontier people groups with the smallest Christian presence globally (e.g., small Hasidic Jewish groups with few believers score higher than large Bangladeshi people groups who have movements to Christ in their homeland). Furthermore, the Matrix prioritizes unreached people group (UPG) communities who have the least amount of missionaries and same-culture believers, even if those communities are smaller than others (e.g., Punjabi Sikhs in NYC score higher than Punjabi Sikhs in Vancouver because of the more developed missionary work in Vancouver).

We are seeking to identify where cross-cultural evangelists and missionaries are most needed because of a lack of Christians within a people group. Groups who have a significant Christian presence outside of the evangelical stream are not included in our list (like some peoples who are primarily Roman Catholic) as a matter of prioritizing needs. The assumption is that all Christian streams have access to Scripture and the gospel in a culturally and linguistically familiar way. Joshua Project (a global peoples database that tracks the impact of the gospel) also does not include groups as unreached peoples if they are over 5% Christian of any kind. Also, some groups like Japanese, Nepali, Cambodians, or Mongols might still appear on global UPG lists as less than 2% Christian, but their Christian presence is much higher in North America (e.g., Pew research shows 38% of Japanese in the U.S. are Christian). As a result, we leave these groups off our list as well. They do not have a desperate need for cross-cultural workers.

Here's a further breakdown of the weighted factors:

2. How do you define what qualifies as an unreached people group?

Defining what constitutes an unreached people group has been an ongoing discussion among missions leaders since the 1960s. See Dave Datema’s article on “Defining ‘Unreached’” A Short History” for details. With the rise of globalization and urbanization, it is becoming more difficult for individuals to clearly define the “one people” to whom they belong. Although individuals may have multiple identities and allegiances based on familial, linguistic, cultural, sociological, political, residential, occupational, religious, or recreational ties, people typically have a primary cultural affinity that constitutes “their people.”

In a historic 1982 meeting of mission leaders in Chicago, the following definitions emerged for “people group” and “unreached people group”:

People Group: “A significantly large grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity for one another because of their shared language, religion, ethnicity, residence, occupation, class or caste, situation, etc., or combinations of these. For evangelistic purposes it is the largest group within which the gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.”

Unreached People Group: “A people group within which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to evangelize this people group.” (See “Finishing the Task” by Ralph Winter and Bruce Koch).

There are three main databases that seek to list unreached people groups globally: the World Christian Encyclopedia, Joshua Project, and IMB’s peoplegroups.org. These databases differ on how they measure unreached people. Joshua Project identifies an unreached people group as less than 2% evangelical and less than 5% Christian adherent.

For the purpose of our UPG Priority Matrix list, we align with Joshua Project for what constitutes an unreached people group. None of us would pretend to act authoritatively on knowing for certain when a people group is unreached or reached. The 2% evangelical and 5% Christian adherent markers are quite arbitrary. Some missions leaders argue that the Christian adherent category should be taken out altogether. More than any other reason, the UPG Priority Matrix retains evangelical and Christian adherent percentages as qualifying markers because they help us determine relative priority on what groups are most in need of indigenous followers of Christ who can continue on the task of reaching their people. Because the least reached people groups on this list have little to no Christian presence within their community, cross-culture or near-culture missionaries are needed to help establish indigenous churches that can easily incorporate new believers from within their communities.

After migration to North America, the “largest group within which the gospel can spread” often becomes broader than the more defined ethnic, caste, or cultural identities in people’s homelands. In North America, for example, a collective identity might form more on a nationalistic or linguistic level than a purely ethno-linguistic or caste level. In the UPG Priority Matrix, we have sought to define these groups on how they are identifying, organizing, and socializing within North America. Missionaries “on the ground” might find that smaller groups need to be delineated for evangelism purposes.

3. I think a people group numbers a lot more than you indicate. What is your source for population numbers?

People group estimates are slippery, even from exhaustive number-collecting efforts like government censuses. We use multiple sources in attempts to provide the most accurate estimate. Even still, these numbers should be interpreted as educated guesses to inform relative need. With the United States and Canada providing exhaustive, regular estimates on people’s ancestry, country of birth, language spoken at home, etc., these census tables provide a great base for comparing people group’s populations in various cities. That being said, it is widely perceived that census figures undercount the types of people groups included in our Matrix. For example, a people group prone to distrusting government entities or consisting of many undocumented immigrants are unlikely to disclose accurate information to census gatherers.

Since the main purpose of our Matrix is to display relative need of where cross-cultural evangelists and missionaries are needed, census tables provide a fair base for us to compare populations within cities. As a result, we often use the best census figures that are available. Among some peoples, no census tables are relevant or are obviously so inaccurate that other means are needed to determine population. In these cases, estimates from local community leaders are used or other national surveys are used. In these cases, it is most helpful if knowledgeable sources are used to adequately compare a people group’s presence in one city to another instead of having isolated community leaders in various cities providing numbers. That way, relative size between cities is more accurate. For example, to determine Hasidic Jewish numbers, a worldwide atlas of Hasidic populations was used as a main source that counted particular Hasidic Jewish populations in cities around the world through individual Hasidic Jewish court directories.

In general, census information is undercounted and local community estimates are high. If a number on our Matrix is very specific, such as 11,246, then census information was likely used. If a round number is used, such as 15,000, a community estimate was likely used. If you would like to know particular sources for particular people groups, contact us to describe who you are and why you are interested.

4. Why do people groups have to number 5,000 in a metro area to make the list?

While somewhat arbitrary, the number 5,000 was chosen because it is large enough for people groups to form a community with institutions and services to retain people group cohesiveness. Larger population numbers also increase the likelihood of global connections for the potential spread of the gospel. This number simply helps us have a cut off to determine priority. To view various populations of people groups in cities with lower numbers, visit peoplegroups.info. Also, one can sort our online Matrix by population or download the Matrix in CSV form (look below the Matrix) to delete, sort, or edit records as desired.

5. It seems like some of your entries aren’t actually ethnic groups but groups associated by language or country of origin. How do you determine the people group names and identities in the UPG Matrix?

As best as we can, we are identifying people groups as they identify/organize/socialize/intermarry/etc. within North America. As a result, our people group definitions will typically be broader than delineations of people groups in people's homeland. Our purpose is not to list all of the different people groups in North America but to strategically identify the largest unreached people groups through which the gospel can naturally spread as a church planting movement without encountering significant barriers of understanding or acceptance.

Because language is one of the most noticeable barriers for communicating the gospel, even in North America, it plays a major part in identifying people groups. Asian Indians are a complicated group to categorize but serve as a good example. In databases like joshuaproject.net, Indian groups are largely categorized by language and drilled down into various castes. In North America, the caste delineations aren't as important and the people often socialize, organize, etc., along linguistic lines (e.g., Telugu Association of New York, or Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati, or Malayali). As a result, we have chosen to identify groups in that way (e.g., Gujarati). Often, people groups take on more of a national identity in North America and socialize/intermarry as such. Thus, we use Bangladeshi instead of Bengali or Sylheti. Sometimes groups primarily identify/socialize/intermarry with a particular religious group, and that group sometimes has their own dialect of a particular language. Such is the case particularly with Hasidic Jewish groups. As a result, they are categorized by their particular Hasidic court (e.g., Satmar Jews).

6. Why are some very large populations less prioritized than smaller populations, sometimes even among the same people?

Not all unreached people groups are the same. Some have burgeoning church planting movements globally but haven't reached 2% evangelical Christian within their population yet. These groups are less in need of cross-cultural workers because of the evangelizing capability of local churches within these people groups. Some people groups don't even have easy access to Scripture or audio resources in their language. There might be 150,000 Bangladeshis in Metro New York but there are also church planting movements taking place among that group in their homeland. Pupa Jews number less than 10,000 in Metro New York but score much higher on overall priority because there are no known Christians among this group worldwide, no one focused on reaching them, and they happen to have their largest presence in the world in Metro New York.

In North America, the largest concentration of a particular people in a city often garners the most attention from missionaries (e.g., Somalis in Minneapolis or Punjabi Sikhs in Vancouver). In contrast to the active ministry or church planting in those cities, sometimes smaller populations of these peoples in other cities score higher in priority on our Matrix because they have garnered less attention from missionaries and same-culture Christians.

7. Does your data include populations of international students who come from unreached people groups but only stay for a few years?

Sometimes. However, we are focused on identifying communities of unreached people groups. International students are too transient to form a long-term community by themselves.

8. Do you measure the number of resources that churches/Christians are currently dedicating to reaching the people groups in question?

Yes, on a global scale, this is factored through the GSEC category on our Matrix. On a local level, categories such as churches started, ministry engagement, and same-culture believers are measured. See more details under the questions, “Can you explain the categories of the Matrix and how they are weighted?”

9. Why is the emphasis of the Matrix on where cross-cultural missionaries are needed?

In the UPG Priority Matrix, we are seeking to identify where cross-cultural evangelists and missionaries are most needed because of a lack of Christians within a people group. When there are a lack of same-culture Christians within a people group to adequately spread the gospel to their people and incorporate them into churches, cross-cultural evangelists are needed to help establish a gospel breakthrough. As same-culture Christians and churches increase, the need for cross-cultural missionaries diminishes and is, ultimately, not needed.