The first thing you probably noticed is that word “peoples” is an odd sort of plural. That’s because we are not talking about many individuals. Rather, we’re talking about many groups of individuals. In scripture they are referred to as “nations.” This is important in missions, because God wants his message of salvation to go to all peoples. In the book of Revelation, we read “your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).DEFINITION OF A PEOPLE GROUP
Here is a formal definition of a people group from the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. “A People Group is a significantly large sociological grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity with one another.” But how does this affect missions? It continues, “For evangelization purposes, a people group is the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.”
"US" AND "THEM"
Those who belong to a people group talk in terms of “us” and “them.” They use words such as “foreigners” or “outsiders” and in some instances they may make ethnic jokes about other peoples. Their common affinity is based on factors such as language, religion, ethnicity, culture, and residence. One of the strongest factors is language. But this is where things get a little complicated. We looked at languages in Session #1 and found that there are thousands of them. Well, there are even more peoples. In many cases the members of a people group all speak the same language. But there are also peoples who speak more than one language, and languages that are spoken by more than one people. Experts have estimated over 16,500 people groups worldwide. Who said this was going to be easy?THE WORD "NATIONS" IN THE BIBLE
When we read the word “nations” in the Bible, we naturally think of countries. After all, the United Nations is composed of over two hundred countries. But the Greek word translated as “nations” is closer to “ethnic groups” or “people groups.” So, when used in that sense, one country may be composed of many nations. We may send missionaries to one country, but that does not guarantee that they will reach all nations in that country.
|NIGERIA - Political Boundary|
|NIGERIA - People Groups|
The country of Nigeria in West Africa is a good example of the need for individually targeting each people with the gospel message. There are over 500 people groups (or “nations”) in that country and about the same number of languages. However, many of the languages have dialects that range from sounding almost identical to being 80 percent intelligible with the main language. A field technician made some audio recordings of the gospel message in a local village. He then played them to a people living 20 miles away. They understood every word, but rejected it because the speaker was not from their group. They wanted a program of their own. Notice again that the definition of a people group refers to “barriers of understanding or acceptance.”
The challenge is therefore to present the gospel message in a language each people can understand and a way that is acceptable to their culture, without changing the intent and meaning of the scripture.