People groups throughout the world are on the move. With ease of travel and the advancements in telecommunications, people can easily stay closely connected with people who speak their mother tongue, adhere to their religious preferences, and deem important the same socio-cultural values as themselves.  Leith Anderson asserts …

“A hundred years from now church historians will report that
immigrants were God’s gift to transform and revive the church in North America.”

Although these new immigrants no longer reside in their country of origin, they still retain their distinct people group identity yet at the same time learn how to function in their new homeland.  Others, though, gradually begin to no longer have their feet in two places and give the appearance of being assimilated into mainstream North American culture.

With the above in mind, what norms help us better understand how people groups are formed through a period of time.  In order to determine such situations, two premises are needful. First, culture is not constant; instead it is dynamic and always changing.  Missiologically, this implies that over time people groups do not remain the same.  Instead, they take new shape or even emerge into new peoples, all being dependent upon several norms that contribute to such changes occurring.  This leads to the second premise: that is, five norms contribute and determine people group formation. Those five norms include:

1. Ethnic Norms – Do a people derive their social identity from their ethnicity? A people’s ethnicity never fades away. However, how people view their ethnicity is never constant. Some people place high value in their ethnic background while others seldom think or even know their ethnic background.

For instance, my ethnic background is both Irish and American Choctaw Indian, yet I view myself as neither Irish nor American Indian.  I view myself more as Anglo-American.  It would be foolish missiologically and practically to label me as either Irish or as Choctaw.

2. Linguistic Norms – Do a people derive their social identity from language? External forces are dispossessing traditional peoples into linguistic assimilation and abandonment of mother tongues to more dominant people and cultures.  In other words, often when a minority people group resides among a majority people, their mother tongue is often abandoned after several generations and they only converse in the majority people group’s language.  Educational standards also impose linguistic assimilation.

As an example, many 2nd, 3rd and even beyond generational Korean and Chinese people speak English well and use English as their primary language in everyday conversations.  In such situations, they live within the ebb and flow linguistically of the Korean or Chinese culture.


With the above two norms in mind, one could easily assume that people groups only find their unique social identity in Ethnic and Linguistic norms and once those two norms fade aware then the people have lost their distinct people identity.   However, that is not the case, three other norms impact people group formation leading to a people’s distinct identity requiring distinct contextualized church planting strategies.   Those three norms include …

3. Socio-Cultural Norms – Do a people derive their social identity from current cultural symbols within their particular context?  Examples of cultural symbols include food, clothing, housing, festivals, rites of passage, etc.

As an example, after on-site research among several Ryukyuan peoples of Japan, we discovered that these people, though they appeared to have ethno-linguistically assimilated with Japanese, actually they retained their distinctiveness through their socio-cultural festivities, feasts, rites of passage, and symbols. As such, these cultural symbols become the defining norms providing them with their distinct people group identity and requiring a completely different contextualized church planting strategy from the majority Japanese people group.

4. Religious Norms – Do a people derive their social identity from symbols in their religious beliefs? A few religious symbols include church, mosque, temple, etc. Also, included are symbols to aid worship and ritualistic practices (e.g. music, holy texts, sacred people, sacred objects, etc.).

As an example, Punjabi, though ethno-linguistically the same, are divided religiously into some adhering to Sikhism and others being Muslim thus requiring two distinct contextualized church planting strategies.

5. Geo-Political Norms – Do a people derive their social identity from nationalistic constructs? Geo-political norms include political (country) borders and physical landscape (mountains, rivers, etc), rural vs urban environments, etc. There are many examples of how North America regionally shapes how one socially relates to their environment and others in their surroundings.

To ascertain how the above five norms have impacted the many people groups in the North American context, it is needed to not make generalized or casual assumptions about who we encounter in our everyday activity.  We never know, unless we get to know those we encounter, how they see the world and who they most readily hang out with, which becomes the topic of my next post.