It has been encouraging to hear conversations taking place about solving how support raising is keeping parachurch ministries white. Ethnic minorities have raised issues with our current funding models for decades. My hope is that we will listen to and be led by them to remedy our structures and enter a new season of flourishing in mission. There are compelling missiological and Biblical reasons to believe that solving the current issues with our support raising model could propel us to fulfill the Great Commission in our generation.
Minorities Reaching Minorities: A Story
Three summers ago my wife and I helped lead a team of U.S. Latino college students on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Our family spent a month with the students sharing the gospel on university campuses in the capital city. God used this trip to give me a small glimpse of how He was working in the world, and I’ll never forget it.
I didn’t notice at first, but my wife, a Latina herself, pointed out that a unique aspect of our team was that while the U.S. Hispanic students shared the gospel with anyone they interacted with, they were particularly drawn to the undocumented Haitians they met on campus or working in our hotel. God had placed a special burden for these people on their hearts.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispañola, and over the years many Haitians had come without immigration papers to the more economically developed side of the island. As my wife and I reflected on our team and their special care for Haitian immigrants, it occurred to us that God had used our teammates’ experience of growing up as ethnic minorities in the U.S. to give them a heart for Haitians (ethnic minorities in the D.R.).
A few of the students, though definitely not all, had once been undocumented in the United States. Others had family who had immigrated legally within the past few generations so they were intimately connected to the minority story. These ethnic minorities from the U.S. could see and relate to ethnic minorities in the Dominican Republic in ways I, as a member of the majority culture in my home country, didn’t naturally do.
God was doing a beautiful thing through our U.S. Latino students, and it started me wondering how He might use ethnic minorities in missions all around the world. With globalization and migration spreading like never before, the possibility exists for more ethnic minorities to be created than ever. While God will certainly use both majority and minority culture missionaries, could He be raising up ethnic minorities for such a globalized world as this? Could God use minorities to reach minorities around the world in unique ways?
In 1974 Ralph Winter presented a talk at the Lausanne Conference that forever changed the shape of missions. The idea of Unreached Peoples “shifted global mission strategy from a focus on political boundaries to a focus on distinct people groups.”1 As a result of his presentation and subsequent advocacy, entire mission agencies reoriented their strategies and unreached people groups entered the lexicon of Evangelicalism.
As a result of our ministry to U.S. Latino college students and the trip to the Dominican Republic mentioned above, I began to wonder, “How many of the world’s people groups are minorities in their countries? How many unreached people groups are ethnic minorities?”
How Many Unreached Peoples Are Ethnic Minorities?
While I am not trained as a sociologist or missiologist, I visited the Joshua Project website and downloaded the most recent data set on the status of unreached peoples around the world.3 I began to examine the data and see if I could find big picture answers, though not scientific, to my questions. My goal was to get a pulse on global trends.
The following table is a summary of what I discovered:
|Total||Population||% of World Population||% Unreached|
|People Group Population > 40%||181||2,794,866,970||39.58%||22.65%|
|People Group Population > 30%||25||160,982,700||2.28%||24.00%|
|People Group Population > 20%||64||265,774,390||3.76%||28.13%|
|People Group Population > 10%||130||487,778,090||6.91%||33.85%|
|People Group Population > 2%||859||1,518,931,620||21.51%||28.87%|
|People Group Population < 2%||4,262||1,453,566,920||20.59%||32.50%|
|People Group Population < 0.1%||10,804||378,781,140||5.36%||48.57%|
There are currently 181 people groups whose size represents more than 40% of their country’s population.4 The number of individuals in these people groups is over 2.7 billion people.
While this represents almost 40% of the world’s population, in terms of people groups it is only 181 of a total 16,325 people groups around the world. It comes as no surprise then that 99.1% of the people groups in the world are ethnic minorities. It should also come as no surprise then that 99.5% of the unreached people groups in the world are ethnic minorities in their countries.
Since this statistic is rather obvious once you start to think about it, I broke down the data further by examining how we were doing at reaching groups who were only 30%, 20%, 10%, etc. of their population. The table above shows the results.
With one exception, the odds that a people group will be unreached grows as the percentage of their population with their country shrinks. Simply put, the larger a people group is in their country, the more likely they will have been reached with the gospel.
If this is how many minorities and minority people groups there are in the world, the next question I began to explore was, “How many missionaries from the U.S. are ethnic minorities?”.
How Many Missionaries from the U.S. Are Ethnic Minorities?
It has proved more difficult than I originally thought to research how many ethnic minorities are serving with U.S. mission agencies. While a few organizations publish this data on their websites or through press releases, the vast majority do not make it publicly available.
I called a number of mission agencies and was unable to obtain any further data. Many organizations simply do not track the ethnicity of their participants, while others have interpreted U.S. Labor Law as preventing them from legally doing so.
I was unable to find statistics on U.S. Latino and Asian Americans serving in missions, but there have been some research studies done to determine the number of African American missionaries serving cross-culturally for at least one year. Jim Sutherland, in his 1998 doctoral dissertation, surveyed the missions community and estimated that the number of African Americans who had served in Africa (the most likely location for them to have gone) was only 0.2% of the total missionary population there.
While we are limited mainly to anecdotal evidence to answer this question, I don’t think anyone would argue that American missions is as diverse as we would like it to be. No doubt our support raising structures play a critical role in shaping our current reality.
Minorities Reaching Minorities
We’ve made significant progress in realizing the role that the Majority World church will play in missions. Nations like Brazil, Korea, and China are rapidly sending missionaries to the world.
While this is to be celebrated, let’s not stop there, with potentially only the majority culture of each country playing a substantial role. Majority culture ministers have a part to play in reaching minorities around the world, but shouldn’t also minorities have their place?
The world needs to see a multiethnic mission force. Countries like Germany, Australia, France, and Russia (to name but a few) are struggling with how to respond to growing diversity within their borders. If we were to make the necessary changes to see more minorities go on mission, how might that further bolster the message of good news we have to share with the world?
“What gets measured gets managed.” – Peter Drucker
I believe it is time for a new term, not to replace but to complement the idea of unreached peoples. It is an idea that if taken hold of could drastically shape mission strategy going forward. I believe that we need to focus on one metric in addition to the number of unreached peoples remaining: Unsent Peoples.
What is an Unsent People?
An Unsent People Group is any people group that is not being mobilized and empowered to help fulfill the Great Commission. This would include any unreached people groups, along with ethnic minorities who have been reached with the gospel but are not participating in missions in sufficient numbers.
I will leave the exact determination to missions experts of what percentage mobilized a people group needs to be before we designate them as “sent”. That is beyond my expertise. But suffice to say I think we should be striving to see the demographics of a nation’s missionary force be similar to or equal to its overall population demographics. The United States population is currently 63.7% White,5 but some of the missions researchers I talked with guessed that our missionary force is closer to 90% majority culture.
I mentioned above that currently there is no way of knowing which people groups in the U.S. would qualify as Unsent Peoples. Anecdotally we might be able to conclude that both African Americans and U.S. Latinos would qualify, but there is no way to be sure. Certainly there are more Unsent Peoples than we would want there to be.
I hope this post will spur a discussion in missions circles about the idea of Unsent Peoples and whether it is worth tracking in our global statistics. Could this be something we record at JoshuaProject.net? I believe it is a needed complement to the idea of Unreached Peoples and could help us take a giant step forward towards the completion of the Great Commission in our generation.
Support Raising and Unsent Peoples
It is my belief that part of what contributes to the number of Unsent Peoples in the United States is the personal support raising paradigm that has been the dominant model of mission funding for the past 60 years. There are other dynamics that contribute to the problem as well, as evidenced by the fact that some non-support raising agencies have yet to develop a diverse mission force. These issues must also be addressed.
But, if you permit me to dream for a moment, what could God do if together we were able to develop more equitable funding models? What if we invited ethnic minorities to lead us to new structures that decreased the number of Unsent Peoples? Could this be another needed paradigm shift in modern protestant missions?
Biblical Precedent: The Early Church
I believe there is powerful Biblical precedent to the idea that increasing the number of ethnic minorities participating in mission could represent a new season of growth for the church. We need only look in the book of Acts.
Solving the issues of inequity in the early church (distribution of food to Hellenistic widows) propelled ethnic minorities to positions of leadership and the church to expansion unlike it had ever seen before. This is the original story of an Unsent People becoming sent.
Peter and the other ethnically Jewish apostles played a key role in the early church. But, beginning with the conflict in Acts 6, ethnic minority Jews (ethnically Jewish raised in Greek culture, often outside of Israel) played an increasingly important role. In fact, they dominate much of the narrative of the rest of the book of Acts.
Characters like Barnabas (Levite from Cyprus), the original seven deacons (all have Greek names), Stephen (the first martyr), and Paul (Jew raised in Tarsus, Asia Minor) propelled the church to minister among the Gentiles in ways the first apostles simply weren’t doing.
Consider the story of Cornelius in Acts 10. Peter needed a vision from God before he would share the gospel with a Gentile, and even then he did so reluctantly. Contrast this with just one chapter later in Acts 11 where Jews flee persecution and end up in Antioch. They only shared the gospel with Jews until men from Cyprus and Cyrene (modern day Libya) came and shared with Gentiles.
It was here in Antioch, where bicultural Jews dared to share with Gentiles, that the followers of Jesus first became known as Christians. To be Christian encompassed sharing the gospel across cultural lines, and it was these ethnic minorities who led the way. Peter needed a vision from God. Biculturals simply did what they had been doing their entire lives, they bridged cultural barriers.
At a time when the world was globalizing like never before, the Spirit called biculturals to lead the church into a new era. I believe he is doing it again in our day. Bicultural ethnic minorities can serve as Bridge Peoples to take the Gospel into new contexts. Others are also seeing the missiological potential of mobilizing ethnic minorities like never before:
The Potential of Minorities on Mission
* Bridge Peoples: The Role of Biculturals in World Evangelization
* Asian Americans uniquely shaped for the mission of God
* Native Americans may be key to reaching the nations
* Mobilizing U.S. Latinos in Mission: COMHINA
* God has called African Americans to a unique role in missions
* Even secular professors are recognizing the crucial role ethnic minorities will play in the next century: Biculturals are the MVPs of 21st Century
Could the Spirit be setting aside a new generation of bicultural, ethnic minority ministers for His work? Our place as a multiethnic church is, together in all of our diversity, to create structures that facilitate the sending of a fresh wave of bicultural Bridge People to pave the way for a new flourishing in the Great Commission.
Maybe this generation will be the one who finally sees the fulfillment of the Great Commission in our generation, because we were able to focus passionately on reducing the number of Unreached and Unsent peoples simultaneously. Would you join with me in this call to be led by ethnic minorities to fix our current mission funding structures? Could we as a Church begin to think outside the box together to mobilize missionaries from majority and minority ethnic groups? Could we affirm the unique role ethnic minorities can play as Bridge Peoples and develop the structures to help them accomplish it?
The fulfillment of the Great Commission may depend on it.
Image Credit: NASA GSFC
- www.ralphwinter.org [↩]
- http://joshuaproject.net/listings/Population/desc/25/allctry/allcon/allreg?jps2=5&jps3=5 [↩]
- Data was downloaded on March 8, 2014. [↩]
- I chose 40% as my cutoff because there is only one country on earth, Comoros, where an ethnic minority people group has a size > 40% of the population of their country. All other groups 40% or larger are the majority culture in their country. [↩]
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States [↩]