A great and faithful friend of mine recently shared with me that, upon learning about unreached people groups (UPG’s), he committed to pray for one. He confessed, however, that he hadn’t been able to learn a lot about his group yet. I offered to help and immediately went to work tracking down stats. I soon learned that the group was a small one consisting of only about 30 members in all. In spite of my best efforts, I was unable to learn much about this tiny UPG — so I finally wrote the guys at JoshuaProject.net. They were very responsive, though they admitted that they didn’t have a lot of additional data beyond what was on the page. Their answer kind of surprised me. “Why don’t you suggest to your friends that they choose another group.”

According to JoshuaProject.net, some 3500 of their 7165 UPG’s are fewer than 10,000 in population, meaning that there is ALMOST a 1 out of 2 chance that the group will be small. Bill Morrison, a professional researcher for JoshuaProject.net, is sobered by the challenge of smaller tribes, castes, and kindreds, but he insisted that the data were not fictitious. “I’m always skeptical of groups this tiny,” He wrote to us this past week, “as to whether they could even be found these days.”

Though sobered by these stats, still I remain a fan of JoshuaProject’s decision to let the data be the data. After all, any serious researcher should, in my opinion, always be reluctant to discard data points. Let the data speak, I say. What’s more, Jesus himself had something to say about small groups. In Matthew 18:12-14, he asked, “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wonders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wondered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wonder off. In the same way, your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” Sparse UPG’s take note: Jesus loves you too.

At the end of the day, however, the whole discussion might not matter that much. You see, although another 1400 or so groups are said to have fewer than 50,000 members, over 2000 unreached people groups have populations of 750,000 or more. These groups are hard to miss. So what I now tell the skeptics is this: Blow them off, if you dare. You still have plenty of work to do with the remaining challenges in our world today. After all, a list of 2226 mongo groups is every bit as sobering to me as a list of 7,165 groups of all sizes. Either way, we still need a planet-wide mobilization of hundreds, if not thousands of new missionaries from a wide array of cultures and occupations. Either way, we’d better pray to the Lord of the Harvest like never before, asking the Lord of the harvest to raise up a new force of goers, senders, and pray-ers. That’s what we need today. Let’s make it happen.