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Strategy for Multi-Cultural People Groups
People Group Identification and Strategy Approaches for Multi-Lingual, Multi-Cultural or International People Segments

Orville Boyd Jenkins

In trying to implement a people group approach to gospel strategy, challenges sometimes arise when encountering a multi-lingual people group. Likewise multi-cultural groupings of people segments speaking the same language must be given more than passing consideration in determining effective incarnational strategies.

The English-language setting of some mission assignments makes it difficult to determine the appropriate language for ministry. Even with a people group approach, international settings present situations which do not fit the simple "tribal" concept of "people group." Particularly this is true for ministering to international populations in English in countries of Europe.

Often there are also many local languages in one setting, making it difficult to concentrate on or gain consistent practice and support in one language while carrying out the job assignment effectively with others of a different language group. Usually English is not the mother tongue (native language) of any of the people segments that otherwise make up a common "international" group.

Here are some thoughts on the planning of strategy for international, multi-cultural or multi-lingual populations.

Basic Question

The basic strategy approach is:

What language is needed to implement incarnational ministry requirements for an identified people? In some cases this might be English. In international settings, the common integrating factor of a multi-lingual and multi-cultural grouping is often in the common international language, which is often also the primary language of many in each associated ethnic group of the international setting.

Additionally it is often the mother tongue or primary (most-used) language of the children in all segments of the international group. Thus we may see the early transitional stages of a new multi-ethnic people group in the making. See Cities and Peoples by this author.

The specific national or linguistic or ethnic groups comprising the larger international segment may offer additional defining characteristics for the larger international group as a whole.

Strategy Steps

(1) identify the target group: ethnic group, age group or social group

This will involve both formal and informal research to learn who the people group as a whole are. Standard PG profile formats may be used, enhanced with any sociological and demographic tools and information. Ideally a worldview investigation will be conducted over a long period of relationship.

This is the same procedure in principle for a multi-cultural or international group as for a unitary tribe or ethnic group. A more complex multi-cultural group, however, will require more careful investigation to understand its segment and sub-identities, which are identified by the same factors as any ethno-linguistic group and its various socio-economic segments.

Much of this is accomplished through initial language learning in the community setting. Language, social interaction and underlying worldview values are all intertwined and will be involved in the overall interaction with the ethnic community or segment. Where English is the common language of the target group, more intense focus can be placed on the cultural worldview investigation.

Identification in a people group format would identify common factors like:
                        Displacement in a foreign country.
                        Necessity to use a language other than the mother tongue (aside form what the mother tongue is).
                        Education of children in international school, often English.
                        Temporariness of location or situation.
                        Need for job training, etc.

(2) determine what language serves as the primary vehicle of social interaction and cultural exchange for that group

An early finding of strategy step 1 will involve this step. In this stage it is helpful to identify secondary languages or specific languages of sub-groups. This is particularly critical in multi-cultural people groups or urban multi-cultural segments. Where the minister is already fluent in the target language or national language, efforts should be focused on culture-intensive learning. Much for the worldview will be learned this way through participation in the life of the people in ever-deepening levels and ever-widening circles of experience and relationship.

(3) design a strategy based on the findings, with ongoing revision and development as more insights into the culture and felt needs of the community grows.

Incarnational ministry remain a core value. Life decisions are made in the deep level of self-identity, in the heart language. Thus gospel strategy aims at that level.

The ideal is a direct ministry in the heart language. In multi-lingual groups, relating and communicating at that level is complicated. This is even more complex in an international setting where many ethnic groups with different languages come together around a common international identity in an international language that is not a mother tongue to most.

Yet the deep decision-making level is still a given for the gospel access to the heart. This relational ministry is critical. This entails identification of the outsider/access worker with the target community, or a segment of it.

Where a language other than a mother tongue is the medium of communication we consider it a mediated ministry. This may be facilitated in a variety of ways, notable by an intermediary believer with the same mother tongue.

Where English is the common language of the multi-cultural or international community, the strategy will ideally focus on cultural identity and integration of the access worker into the community, just as for any other ethnic group. It might entail learning a language of a representative sub-group of the group. Perhaps this will be the national language of the host country of that international community (e.g., German in Germany, French in France), or the language of a large international group in the larger international community (e.g., English in a European country).

(4) design an entry orientation program to equip the minister for that cultural setting, using the identified language as the medium for cultural orientation

Entry Orientation will include cultural investigation and community contact experiences through the medium of one primary language of the target people.

In the case of an international segment including identifiable ethnic segments, it is highly advantageous to conduct cultural orientation in the context of that community, through the language of that particular ethnic segment, or sub-group. This fosters identification with a representative ethnic segment of the larger multi-cultural international population group.

This facilitates the relational factors necessary for incarnational ministry, building of trust among the community, fostering ethnic awareness for the learner-minister, gaining social skills by the learner-minister and the building of relationships which might bring openness to ministry.

As identification is earned with the chosen ethnic segment, entrees are built into the larger community, as credible visibility develops.


We must start a focus on the people group or segment themselves.  Strategy is determined largely by the cultural identity of the people and their felt needs, and prior beliefs or values, focused on incarnational ministry.

The Life Descriptions (descriptions of the living and working situations and expectations) for cross-cultural access workers will include the faith and culture characteristics of the people group or population segment, providing the foundation for defining and implementing the specifics of the incarnational life ministry.

Orville Boyd Jenkins, Ed.D., Ph.D.

Email: researchguy@iname.com

Posted 18 May 2000
Last edited 29 May 2006

Copyright © Orville Boyd Jenkins 2000
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.

What is Worldview?       What is a People Group?     Cities and Peoples
Culture, Learning and Communication    How to Do Research on the Web
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