Missions, Outreach

Extending the scope to Reach the Unreached

Extending the scope to Reach the Unreached

The Methodist Missions Society (MMS) Vision 2025 is to “Enlarge the Tent of God” among the world’s unreached people groups (UPG) so that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:9).

The Lausanne Committee defined a people group in 1982 as “the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance”. The Joshua Project estimated that there are about 10,400 people groups (or 17,400 if country boundaries are considered) worldwide, with about 4,600 UPGs (or 7,400 if country boundaries are considered) today.1

We praise God for the seven field countries where MMS is currently involved. As it enlarges the tent going forward, MMS could first look at the UPGs in the seven field countries and see how they can be reached with the Gospel. Next, MMS could look at the UPGs in ASEAN countries as they are our closest neighbours. Finally, MMS could look at UPGs further afield in other Asian countries in South Asia and East Asia as the Lord leads.

UPGs in MMS field countries

Table 1 provides a summary of the 988 UPGs in MMS’s seven field countries. Cambodia, Laos, Nepal and Thailand have large percentages of their population living among UPGs and should receive the greatest attention and resources. The Khmers remains the largest UPG in Cambodia with about 14 million, predominantly Buddhists. So are the 60 million Thais in Thailand, and the 3.5 million Laos in Laos. The picture is more diverse in Nepal with more than 275 UPGs waiting to be reached, especially among the Brahmins and Chhetris. Timor-Leste* has the least number of UPGs, presumably because it is considered a Roman Catholic country.

Table 1: UPGs in MMS Field Countries

Countries Population People Groups UPGs UPG Population % Unreached
Cambodia 16,662,000 44 19 15,982,000 95.9
East Asia 1,424,582,000 545 444 146,663,000 10.3
Laos 7,236,000 127 106 5,485,000 75.8
Nepal 29,015,000 285 275 26,209,000 90.3
Timor-Leste* 1,299,000 24 0 0 0
Thailand 69,585,000 113 77 61,378,000 88.2
Vietnam 97,238,000 118 67 8,889,000 9.1


UPGs in other ASEAN countries

Table 2 shows that the other ASEAN countries where MMS is not present have fewer UPGs (total of 406) as the churches there are older and more active in outreach and evangelism. The Philippines* also has fewer UPGs as it is also considered a Roman Catholic country. Apart from Brunei, all four other countries have a strong Methodist presence. While MMS does not need to send missionaries to these countries, it can partner the Methodist church there to reach the UPGs, especially in countries like Indonesia and Myanmar where the percentages of their population living among UPGs are higher.

Table 2: UPGs in the Other ASEAN Countries

Countries Population People Groups UPGs UPG Population % Unreached
Brunei 427,000 24 8 239,000 56.0
Indonesia 273,402,000 789 236 170,927,000 62.5
Malaysia 32,272,000 182 79 16,628,000 51.5
Myanmar 54,311,000 149 53 45,298,000 83.4
Philippines* 109,421,000 200 30 5,427,000 5.0


UPGs in other Asian countries

Beyond ASEAN, the picture is grimmer, as shown in Table 3. All six countries listed have large numbers of UPGs (total of 3,367) with more that 90 per cent of their population living among them. These are also big countries with huge populations. Again, MMS need not send missionaries there as most already have a Methodist presence, but can work with the Methodist church there to reach the UPGs.

Table 3: UPGs in Selected Asian Countries

Countries Population People Groups UPGs UPG Population % Unreached
Bangladesh 163,945,000 331 299 162,028,000 98.8
Bhutan 769,000 76 73 766,000 99.6
India 1,373,941,000 2,717 2,445 1,313,878,000 95.6
Japan 126,395,000 37 24 123,750,000 97.9
Mongolia 3,229,000 28 22 3,167,000 98.1
Pakistan 219,925,000 512 504 217,904,000 99.1


The above 18 countries account for 4,761 or 65 per cent of all UPGs today. While they are closer to home, there are obviously UPGs in other countries that are equally in need of the Gospel. The harvest is truly plentiful. May we heed our Lord’s advice to ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into the harvest field! (Matt 9:37–38)

1 https://joshuaproject.net. All following tables and statistics are taken from the same site.

Mekong, Laos – 29 Feb 2012: The people in the small village on south Laos
SAPA, VIETNAM – FEBRUARY 22, 2013: Hmong women at Bac Ha market in Northern Vietnam. Bac Ha is hilltribe market where people come to trade for goods in traditional costumes
Village Kids Girls Smiling And Standing In A Mosque In Moro Sindh, Pakistan 28/08/2017

Dr Christopher Cheah is a Methodist Missions Society (MMS) ExCo Member and a member of Fairfield Methodist Church. A retired medical doctor, he was Chairman of Singapore Centre for Global Missions and currently chairs the board of Pioneers in Asia, a mission agency sending missionaries to UPGs worldwide. He is married to Fung Fong and they have three adult children, one of whom is working in a country where MMS sends missionaries to. This article first appeared in Harvest Force 2021, issue 2.