Projecting Cluster Populations to 2050
Joshua Project organizes People Groups into Clusters. Whereas there are thousands of people groups, there are only about 255 clusters. These clusters of groups are related to each other, and generally fall into one of three categories: a cluster that’s nearly all one group (e.g. Koreans), a group with a very large majority group and a few small minority groups (e.g. Turkic), and a cluster that’s made up of lots of small groups somewhat related to each other.
For each cluster, I calculated the portion of the population of that cluster’s constituent groups in each of the various UN regions. I then grabbed the UN region’s population in 2025 and 2050, and calculated what the Cluster’s population would be if it’s percentage of the region remained the same (this is a big assumption, but it’s a doable initial one). This helps us to see which clusters generally get bigger or remain the same or smaller, based on fluctuations in regional populations.
The result, for the least-reached clusters, is the following. It’s interesting to see where the remaining task could get bigger, and where it might even shrink.
|PeopleCluster||LR||TOTAL 2015||TOTAL 2025||TOTAL 2050|
|Aceh of Sumatra||Y||4,346,000||4,805,146||6,050,321|
|Banjar of Kalimantan||Y||5,550,000||6,136,346||7,726,480|
|Bugi-Makassar of Sulawesi||Y||11,101,600||12,274,460||15,455,188|
|Fulani / Fulbe||Y||39,826,400||51,778,450||119,435,539|
|Gorontalo of Sulawesi||Y||1,211,600||1,339,603||1,686,739|
|Guera-Naba of Chad||Y||494,700||673,789||1,702,765|
|Lampung of Sumatra||Y||1,755,000||1,940,412||2,443,238|
|Madura of Java||Y||7,678,000||8,489,164||10,688,994|
|Melayu of Sumatra||Y||6,497,660||7,184,124||9,045,774|
|Minangkabau-Rejang of Sumatra||Y||7,613,000||8,417,297||10,598,504|
|Musi of Sumatra||Y||4,548,000||5,028,487||6,331,537|
|Ogan of Sumatra||Y||562,000||621,374||782,393|
|South Asian, other||Y||26,393,730||29,492,319||39,288,801|
|Pasemah of Sumatra||Y||1,667,000||1,843,115||2,320,728|
|Sunda-Betawi of Java||Y||44,564,000||49,272,092||62,040,158|
|Tukangbesi of Sulawesi||Y||1,233,580||1,363,905||1,717,339|
Levels of mission involvement
When we use the term “mission,” what kinds of things can we be referring to? People who “Go on missions” or who “do mission” often are doing one of the following. I think it’s helpful to have some broad categories:
1. Serving the local church. Typically short term or recurring short term trips of service to the Christian community,things like medical trips, children’s ministry, building construction, legal or financial services, vocational training, etc.
2. Serving the local (Christian+secular) community. Some variant of the first option aimed at the broader community, often as a stepping stone to enabling the local church to witness etc.
3. Witness. Some variations of short or long term enable the individual to be a witness in a secular context: eg tent,among, business investment, teaching, sports ministries, etc. Here I am thinking of people who do not go necessarily to evangelize, but rather to be a witness through the demonstration of the Christian life lived.
4. Evangelism. This is perhaps what we most often think of in terms of mission: overtly sharing the gospel across languages and cultures. Forms can range from door to door sharing, House to house, literature distribution, film teams, dramas, large or mass crusades, evangelistic concerts, etc. The key here is the sharing of the gospel with the intent to make converts who are usually funneled toward churches. Billy Graham was an evangelist. Unfortunately evangelism that does not yield or is not service to stages 5-8 will often be unharvested fruit. We must be careful of flinging seed without a thought for harvesting.
5. Disciple making. This is a next step beyond the first step of evangelism and profession of faith. Disciple making is a longer term relationship of spiritual mentoring and accountability. In my view this cannot be done in the context of a single short term trip, and it’s hard to do with recurring. It requires language and culture acquisition. It is most effectively and efficiently done in the same culture context but for the gospel to spread it must sometimes be done cross-culturally.
6. Church gathering/planting/pastoring. As disciples are made and gathered, church structures of some kind must be developed. This is another area where missionaries can help, though we must caution is a high risk endeavor. Culture creep can happen at the evangelism and disciplemaking stages but I think nowhere is it more possible or dangerous than here. Whereas broad cultural imports often neuter evangelism, a small amount of bad culture can cross through high trust channels at the church planting stage, get translated into a different culture and go on to infect the church structures that are reproduced. Culture at the evangelism level often yields spiritual sterility; imported culture at the church level can spark metastasizing cancers. Nevertheless when missionaries serve the local church by helping them develop accountability to biblical patterns, strong healthy systems can thrive.
7. Reproducing and multiplication. Missionaries are most effective when they help new church networks etc become rapidly multiplying movements. This requires encouraging simplicity, accountability to scripture, and wide implementation of disciplemaking not just by “professional clergy” but lay believers too. Catalyzing movements is how we “move the needle.”
8. Movements birthing movements. The most effective movement starters are existing movements that know how to implement these 7 stages. Missionaries who help movements jump the cultural barrier into nearby peoples can help birth astronomical change.
Note that as missionaries move into 6-8 above, ironically, their efforts will be increasingly questioned by other missionaries who are more used to/comfortable with areas 1-5 and some 6.
One of the big things keeping new American workers from going to the field: student debt.
Several people known to Beyond are students working on finishing their degrees or paying off their debts.
In this piece for the WSJ, student loans are shown to be the biggest form of debt, and 6x larger than they were in 2004.
One piece of helping young missionaries get to the field could be teaching about student debt issues before they get to college, providing scholarships, and helping students get their debts paid down.
Resurrection vs. Raising
People don’t often get that “resurrection” and “raised from the dead” are not technically the same thing.
People who are raised from the dead will still die one day – Jairus daughter, Lazarus, the boy coming out of the village.
People who are resurrected receive a new body that is immortal, and will never die.
Jesus was the first resurrection, and unless I misunderstand Scripture, everyone else is still waiting for the resurrection.
Resurrection is what I look forward to!
Easter is the proof
I’ve heard in several places the line that “the death of Christ was the most important thing – it paid the sacrifice.”
I suppose that’s theologically true; I’ll let people who are theologically smarter than me comment on that.
But to me – perhaps as I grow older – Easter & resurrection are far more impactful.
It’s Easter and the resurrection that proves the death paid the sacrifice.
People have died for other people. Easter proves that God died for man.
Success and Failure Bars
In my work both with research and recruiting at Beyond, I do a lot of experimentation and testing. Especially in recruiting, we are constantly testing new ways of communicating vision, gathering potential candidates, and identifying high-potential prospects: people who are telling us they are serious about pursuing missions as a career.
I’ve been reading a lot from business literature about designing experiments, and trying to apply that practically. We have discovered what probably every good business major/entrepreneur knows, but seems like a rare thing in missions: the key to a good experiment is to set a clear bar both for “success” and “failure” before running the experiment!
Unfortunately, we often “do something as an experiment” in missions, and only after do we ask whether it was a success or not. “Well, we had a couple of people respond…” So, is that a success? Is it a good ROI? (“How do we measure the value of a soul? How do we know what kind of impact they will have on the field?”) We end up shooting the arrow, then painting the target around it.
We’ve found it’s a lot easier to set the win conditions first. In one of our recent small experiments, we defined a “win” as three levels: (1) at least 20 people show up, (2) people ask questions, (3) one to three people self-indicate they are “potential candidates.” The “failure” bar was an inverse: (1) fewer than 20 show up, (2) few are interested (=asks questions), (3) no potential candidates come out of it. An “abandon” failure bar was (1) no one shows up, or (2) no questions are asked.
If the experiment failed, we would then have clear questions to ask about how we performed the experiment: were there things we could to improve the show-up and participation rate? Are we inviting the right people (e.g. likely to be potential candidates)? do we have the wrong discussion topics? From every experiment we should be getting feedback and learning how to improve our success rates, before the next iteration.
The challenge for a lot of missions – especially smaller ones – is that we don’t know where the candidates are, how to find them, and how to mobilize them into mission. Experiments are a way to remove the “fog of uncertainty.” But experiments need to be run with clear conditions to know whether they should be amplified, modified, or abandoned.
Four marks of a good candidate
At Beyond, there are four “basic requirements of a good candidate” that I generally look for:
- They have to say “yes” to “long-term.” If they start with, “Do you have any short-term trips? I love to take a short-term missions trip every summer,” I say, “No.” We may have differing definitions of what “long-term” means, but if you’re starting by definition from a short-term perspective, I’ll redirect you to other agencies. On the other hand, if you say to me, “I’m interested in doing something about _X_ place, maybe long-term – do you have anything, like a vision trip or a summer internship, where I can explore what that’s like?,” then I’ll be happy to connect you with some possibilities.
- They have to say “yes” to the “unreached.” Again, we may not be quite on the same page as to who the unreached are. But if your calling is to Christians (revival) or the people on the fringes of Christianity, then I will likely redirect you to someone else. Beyond is about focusing on the people few others are focusing on: the people who will not hear the Gospel unless something about our strategy and resource deployment changes.
- They have to say “yes” to “movements.” We see movements as the only thing that gets ahead of population growth. We’re all about disciples who make disciples who make disciples who make disciples. We know this is slow at the start, but we also know it has the capacity for exponential growth. Being about movements means there are some things we don’t do – things we say “no” to. So we need to be on the same page about that.
- They have to say “yes” to “Beyond.” (Or, at least a strong “maybe.”) But if you’re interested in a different agency and you just need help getting in touch, let me know, and I’ll do everything I can to make the connection for you.
Recently I overheard the phrase, “He’s trying to start a church, and having difficulty.”
I began to wonder, immediately if idly, about the perspective we have when we say “start a church.”
When we say we are “starting a church,” precisely what is the activity involved?
Is it setting up procedures? Filing paperwork? Getting licenses? Organizing services? Arranging staff? etc?
This gets back to the question: what is a church?
Is a church something that can be started?
If a church is a gathering of believers, then perhaps it is not something that can be started–only discovered.
Maybe, instead of “starting a church,” we need to be “gathering a community” and see what emerges.
It may be a nitpicky nuance, but perhaps changing the language would also help us to shift our mindsets.
What we mean by “unreached,” and the importance of reaching them
Although “unreached” has a technical definition, with complex nuances, sometimes when people use “unreached” they mean something very different. Exploring the different ways people can use “unreached” shows how easily we overlook or forget the people “unreached” is intended to help us remember.
- “There are lost ___________ (insert favorite denominational group here) sitting in the pews, who are just as unreached as anyone else in the world. Maybe more so.” Here, “unreached” is being used to refer to people whose spiritual condition is in need of revival. They may claim to be Christian (e.g. “sitting in pews”) but are showing little fruit (at least in the eyes of this observer). While not denying the need for revival amongst many Western churches, this is not what we mean by unreached.
- “I was raised in a Christian home, and my parents took me to church on all the major holidays, but I never heard the Gospel until…” Here “unreached” is referring to the “hardened” or “semi-hardened” sinner who has not yet responded to the Gospel. Two variants of this abound: those who “never heard the Gospel” from their supposedly Christian culture, and the “I heard the Gospel frequently but it never made sense to me until ____[I heard it this way]____.” Generally, people have more access to the Gospel than they think, but it often takes a number of Gospel-exposures for it to “stick.” (In fact, some studies suggest the ratio of Christian to non-Christian friends is perhaps the biggest key; if more non-Christian friends, it is less likely for any single exposure to stick.)
- “All those atheists in Europe are just as unreached as all the groups that are getting so much attention.” This example is essentially equating all non-Christians. It is true that lost is lost, at least in terms of the net effect of eternal salvation or lostness. But the major point that unreached makes is: reached non-Christians have had the Gospel brought to them, or will have it brought to them early in their lifetime. Virtually all Europeans know a Christian of some kind (many European non-Christians were once Christians themselves); many if not most know an evangelical Christian. And, for those who do not have a personal friendship with an evangelical, the fact is virtually all are within easy relational distance of evangelical Christians if they were so mobilized. (For example, every place/person in France is within a 30 minute drive of an evangelical church.)
- “This group has missionaries and they are engaged; we should go to the unengaged groups only.” I appreciate what FTT and their friends have done for raising attention and focus on people groups that lack any work at all. But–and FTT themselves would say the same thing–unengaged is not the same thing as unreached. Engaging a group is the first step on the road. Reached means that missionaries are no longer needed; the indigenous church can do the job.
The point of “unreached” isn’t that a person hasn’t heard. The same thing could be said of any child under about 5 years of age. The unreached are important because they will not have a chance to hear in their lifetime. It isn’t that the Gospel hasn’t gotten to them yet or that it hasn’t gotten to them in a way they can understand or that few of their friends are Christians. It’s that the Gospel will likely not get to them at all, and there are few plans (or none at all) to change that. They are forgotten: left out of our minds and strategies, which are largely focused on the people above.
Categories of Difficulty
Just because a country is in the 10/40 Window doesn’t mean it’s uniformly hard to reach. There are (at least) three categories of countries (and these likely apply to peoples and cities as well):
Small populations, difficult to enter: places like Afghanistan, Libya, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the -Stans, and Yemen. These are relatively small population sizes, but their borders are tightly defended and the smallness of the population makes it easier to monitor them. These can be considered among the “last lines” for the Gospel to penetrate–it is difficult and dangerous to do so. “Reaching closure” in these places will require perseverance, prayer, and creativity–and if we’re honest, most of the people in these places may be “unreachable” at the moment insofar as human eyes can see.
Moderate populations, easier to enter: places like Chad, Turkey, Egypt. It is not easy to get into these countries, and some are harder than others (some even bordering on category 1). Still, their population tends to make them “larger markets” which makes them at least slightly more open to the world. Better still, many of these have fairly direct ties with the Category 1 countries listed above.
Very large populations, ease-of-entrance varies: places like Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, China. The bulk of the unevangelized individuals are in these countries (simply by virtue of their large populations). It’s fairly easy to enter as a tourist or on business, but it’s far harder to remain in place. Strategies to reach these places will need to scale, and hundreds of movements to Christ will be required. These places are home to many internal sociopolitical and ethnolinguistic barriers the Gospel will have to jump across.