What are Unengaged Unreached People Groups?
Unreached people groups, or UPGs, exist around the world where there are no indigenous communities of believers. A people group is considered unreached when there are less than or equal to 2% of professing Christians in the area. UPGs are an important focus of missions because these people have little to no access to the gospel. Within UPGs, another subgroup with dire need for the gospel are unengaged unreached people groups.
According to The Joshua Project, an unengaged unreached people group, or UUPG, is a people group with "no known active church planting underway.” It is estimated that there are 3,050 UUPGs, which is about 278 million people around the world. According to the International Mission Board, most UUPG’s are concentrated in South Asia, the Middle East, and Sub-Sahara Africa.
There is generally a larger understanding of UPGs and what they are compared with UUPGs. According to The Joshua Project there are a multitude of reasons that these people groups continue to be unengaged with the gospel. The first reason is that the Bible may not be translated in their native language. Some may have access to the Scriptures in major languages, but there is a high value on having the Scriptures in their mother tongue.
The second reason there are unengaged people groups is because they have limited access to the gospel. In a vast majority of the countries in the 10/40 Window— the rectangular area in the Eastern Hemisphere where there is the highest concentration of unreached people—research shows that most people are oral learners and have high rates of illiteracy. Therefore, a physical Bible is not as helpful because they learn better from listening. There are staggering statistics that one in three people in the world do not have access to the internet. These issues coupled together prove to be a greater issue to tackle. These people show a preference to learning in a way that they have limited access to.
Finally, unengaged people groups have very limited contact with Christians. Overall, the individuals in these UUPGs have little to no contact with known Christians and therefore do not have access to the gospel.
So, what do we do with this information? Matthew 9:37-38 says, “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’”
This passage specifically refers to a field where workers are few, but it also, by default, includes the fields where there are no workers at all. The Lord desires for his disciples to continue to support the areas where church planting is already occurring but also to go into areas that have no active church planting initiatives to fulfill the Great Commission. In parallel to what the passage says, there is a plentiful harvest around the world of people who need the gospel and a Savior in Jesus Christ.
Another way to look at it is to think of a field with few workers and a field with no workers at all. The field with few workers is like a UPG, and the field with no workers is like a UUPG.
East-West prioritizes a multiplication strategy that takes a sustainable approach to the Great Commission. East-West’s vision is to see disciples and healthy churches multiply in the spiritually darkest areas of the world. The ministry pursues this mission of multiplication by seeking out the countries where UUPGs exist and connecting with national partners to best reach those people. To reach the unengaged, there needs to be a union of strategy and action. A mobilization strategy is important, but if there aren’t people willing to go into action in the field then the unengaged will continue to not have access to the gospel.
Jesus challenged us with the Great Commission more than 2,000 years ago, and there are still billions of people who do not know a professing Christian. How long do the children of God have to wait to be introduced to their inheritance?
To learn more, check out East-West's guide to unreached people groups.