Unreached people in Russia
Russia is a vast land with abundant diversity and a rich history. This is the
world’s largest country, extending across 11 time zones and filled with many
ethnic people groups. In fact, 115 ethnic groups in Russia are considered
unreached, totaling nearly 22 million. Of those 115 unreached people
groups, nearly 30 have no one actively engaging them with the gospel. Most
evangelistic efforts focus on reaching ethnic Russians, who make up 80%
of the total population of Russia. Approximately 60% of ethnic Russians
are Russian Orthodox, 35% are non-religious, and a mere 1.2% claim to be
evangelical Christians. Urgent and informed prayer is needed for this great
land and for the many people groups that have yet to hear the gospel of
The Revival of Islam
Some estimate that Muslims, already numbering more than 17 million, could make up a majority in Russia by the end of the 21st century, not only because of their population growth, but also because of ethnic-Russian decline. The largest Muslim people groups are Tatars (5.5 million), Bashkirs (1.6 million), and Chechens (1.4 million), but there are also many Central Asians and peoples of the Caucasus Region that practice Islamic teachings. Of 115 unreached people groups, 54 of them adhere to Islam. While approximately 20% of Muslims faithfully practice Islam, and thankfully some are turning to Christ, the need is still great for consistent gospel proclamation among the Muslim people groups of Russia.
North Caucasus Region
Lying between the Black and Caspian Seas, the Caucasus Region remains one of the least reached places on earth. The Chechen wars of the 1990s and related terrorist incidents severely destabilized the entire region. Besides a lack of stability, other factors such as rugged topography, cultures resistant to change, strong xenophobia, deeply rooted Islamic beliefs and traditions, and unseen spiritual strongholds make this region very challenging to reach.
There are approximately 50-60 ethnic people groups living in the Caucasus Region, most of which have little Scripture in their languages or any churches among their peoples. Thankfully, this is slowly, but surely, changing. Interagency cooperation, strategic planning, growing prayer networks, and faithful workers are all helping to shine a spotlight on this under-resourced and largely unengaged part of Russia.
Dagestan alone, located on the Caspian Sea, is more than 90% Muslim and home to 34 ethnic people groups. Violence is common, and unemployment is very high at 50%. Chechnya, to the west of Dagestan, has long resisted Russian rule. There is a small Christian presence in the capital of Grozny, and there are an estimated 100 Chechen Christians across Russia. The people groups of this Caucasus region constitute the least evangelized peoples in Europe.
This area consists of 14 republics and oblasts and is home to several large people groups. The 5.5 million Tatars are Russia’s largest Muslim people group. The majority are nominal or secular; only 10% faithfully practice Islam. For most, to be Tatar is to be Muslim. The number of Tatar believers and churches is growing. Bashkortostan is home of the Bashkir, who are also closely related to the Tatar. They are another large Muslim people group, but old forms of paganism and folk religion remain strongly entrenched. Some Udmurt consider themselves Orthodox, but there still remain very few evangelical believers. The Chuvash, about 1.5 million, espouse Orthodoxy but are effectively secular. Two Mordvin groups (Moksha and Erzya) inhabit the republic of Mordovia. Their combined population is approximately 800,000. Mari El is the traditional home of the Mari people, who account for 43% of this republic’s population. Most retain their pre-Christian Shamanist-Animist beliefs, although a small percentage are Christian.
This region lies within the continent of Asia and covers about 30% of the total land area of Russia. Siberia is known as the birthplace of Shamanism and is also home to two large Tibetan Buddhist people groups, the Buryats and Tuvans. The Buryats live north of Mongolia, have a population of nearly half a million, and are the largest ethnic group in Siberia. Shamanistic practices are commonly mixed with their Buddhism. The Tuvans live northwest of Mongolia and have a population of nearly 300,000. In both cases, their religious beliefs and practices are woven deeply into their cultural identities. The numbers of Christians and churches among both people groups are slowly growing. The Khakas people have close ties to neighboring Tuvan and Altai peoples and are Shamanists and Animists. Very few Khakass claim to follow Christ.
Far Eastern Region
This region is the largest of the eight federal districts of Russia but the least populated. The largest city, Vladivostok, is the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway and the port for Russia’s Pacific fleet. Significantly, it is also connected directly to China and North Korea by railways, a strategic position to be utilized to reach its unevangelized residents and neighbors. The indigenous peoples of the Russian Far East are small in population, but unique. Spread across large geographic areas, they include Alutor, Evenki, Kamchadal, Nanai, Negidal, Nivkh, Orok, and Udekhe. There are also significant numbers of Koreans (including North Koreans), Japanese, and Jews, many unreached with the good news.