RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–A people group is a group of individuals, families and clans who share a common language and ethnic identity. The most noticeable characteristic is language, but race, religion, heritage and even socioeconomic differences also are defining people group factors.
More than 6 billion people inhabit the earth comprising 12,862 ethno-linguistic people groups. Of the global population, nearly 3.4 billion people — 6,476 ethno-linguistic people groups — are unreached.
The groundbreaking work of outreach to a people group requires strategic planning, so the International Mission Board appoints “strategy coordinators” to develop and implement this strategy among a specific people group or population segment.
An unreached people group is one that contains less than 2 percent evangelical Christians. They also are identified as not having indigenous church movements with sufficient strength, resources and commitment to sustain and ensure the continuous multiplication of churches.
The International Mission Board identified just over 5,000 unreached people groups as “Last Frontier” people groups with little or no access to the gospel. The combined population of Last Frontier people groups totals nearly 1.5 billion.
Everyone in the world can be linked to some ethno-linguistic group or groups. Missions strategists are busy segmenting the regions of the world into people groups. If a people group segment is too large to be effectively reached with the Gospel, it is further divided into homogenous population segments, such as the different dialects of the language.
For years, many missionaries focused their efforts on the country they lived in. As they began work in a country, they would learn and use the national language and focus their efforts on the dominant culture. In doing so, they were able to share the Gospel with many. In time, however, it became apparent that use of the national language and the focus on the dominant culture left others virtually untouched because they spoke different languages and had different cultures.
Concentrating on people groups and homogenous population segments helps strategy coordinators and other missionary coworkers focus on specific cultural distinctions that can affect the presentation of the Gospel. When missionaries are aware of a people group’s worldview, they can identify issues within that culture and then build ministry models that address those issues.
Jesus commanded His followers to make disciples of all the world’s people groups. To take this command seriously, missionaries must know who these people are, where they are located, how many they are, what languages they speak, what religions they practice and — most importantly — the status of the Gospel among them.
The position of strategy coordinator does not replace the more common appointment of an incarnational missionary, a worker who plants himself in an area long-term to personally make disciples. Instead, with the complexities of thoroughly exposing an unreached people group to the message of Christ, the strategy coordinator complements the incarnational missionary’s work by partnering with him.
The strategy coordinator first seeks to understand the worldview and language of a specific people group to lead to inroads for ministry. To grasp, for example, the economic and social structure of an area is to grasp how to meet needs and build relationships with individuals who seem to be polar opposites of Westerners. This research is highly personal, allowing for much interaction with the lost.
A comprehensive view of a culture then leads the strategy coordinator to explore various evangelical resources that could help start a church-planting movement. Bible translation, radio broadcasts, video-cassette ministries, literature distribution, prayerwalking and other evangelical ministry forms may be beneficial to a missionary, and the strategy coordinator incorporates the best of these into a written plan.
For example, a strategy coordinator might organize a radio program, while a local missionary will follow up on radio respondents. In addition, a strategy coordinator might work toward the expansion of the Gospel among a people even though he does not actually live among the people.
Thus, the strategy coordinator is like a foreman in a factory: He is not always doing the work, but he is making sure that it gets done. The strategy coordinator asks, “How many of my people heard the Gospel today?” The incarnational missionary asks, “How many people have I shared the Gospel with today?”
Another integral part of the strategy coordinator’s ministry is prayer networking. He or she forms circles of supporters who focus on urgent, sensitive needs, as well as broader circles for ongoing prayer support.
Despite the administrative aspect of being a strategy coordinator, these missionaries have opportunities to conduct evangelistic Bible studies and to witness one-on-one.
The International Mission Board deployed its first strategy coordinator in 1988 to China, and there currently are more than 300 Southern Baptists serving in this capacity with a passion for the lost and a belief in the power of prayer. Strategy coordinators must be visionary, disciplined, risk-taking, always learning and extremely flexible.
The strategy coordinators themselves are as diverse as the ministries they now conduct. Men and women from almost every imaginable background and career have moved from success to significance in becoming a strategy coordinator.