The Indian Church is highly diverse, with a long legacy. Much of Indian Christianity results from people movements of the last 300 years, often started by local revivals. Some Christian groups today have remarkable growth, while other groups decline in numbers. Persecution of Christians has been steadily intensifying in recent years, and shows no signs of abating. Pray for our brothers and sisters in India to endure in the midst of this increasing pressure.
- The Orthodox Churches trace their origin to the tradition of the Apostle Thomas, who was said to minister here in the 1st century. Orthodox Christians (over 2.2 million) have the strongest presence in Kerala and southwest India.
- Catholics represent the largest Christian group in India (nearly 20 million). People respect their charity work, especially Mother Teresa’s care for the poorest of the poor. Catholics run more than 5,000, healthcare facilities. The charismatic movement in the Catholic Church began in 1972. It spread to almost every congregation, and brought both new life and increased outreach.
- Evangelical denominations and congregations multiplied. God uses several networks and alliances to mature and mobilize believers through prayer, pastors’ retreats, and conventions. They also coordinate training, literature production, missions, and outreach (the Evangelical Fellowship of India links over 224 denominations, the Pentecostal Fellowship of India links the major Pentecostal groups, and so on).
- Newer Pentecostal and charismatic fellowships sprang up quickly, and spread throughout India, especially in the last 15 years. The Yesu Darbar gathers tens of thousands of Jesus’ followers in North India. They model biblical worship and fellowship patterns in an Indian style.
- Millions of followers of Jesus (Yesu Bhaktas) are secret believers, or unbaptized Christians outside the established denominations. Pray for discipleship for these people as their numbers increase.
The world's least-evangelized peoples are concentrated in India. Of 159 people groups of over 1 million people, 133 are unreached. Hundreds more groups of fewer than 1 million are unreached. Also, 953 ethnic groups have populations greater than 10,000; of these, 205 have no church and little to no outreach from Christians. They can be found in every state, although they tend to be more concentrated in the north. A few of the most significant peoples for prayer:
- The Brahmin are the priestly caste, which is the highest caste in the Hindu world. They number over 50 million, but perhaps only 18,000 follow Jesus. They are the most influential group in India, but few focused efforts to reach them have been made.
- Forward Castes - the Rajput (43.0m), Mahratta (29.0m), Hindu Jat (16.0m), Mahishya (10.6m), Kayastha (8.1m), Nair (7.5m), Agarwal/Bania (5.0m), Arora (3.9m), Bhumihar (3.0m), Vellalan (2.5m), Hindu Khatri (2.1m) and others. Several others are considered Forward Castes in some states but Backward in others. Forward Castes have very negative views of Christians - that they are Dalits, simple and cowardly, and they reject Hindu culture for Western colonial ideas. There remains little effective ministry among the Forward Castes. These people groups will need a different and a sensitive, loving approach and adequate preparation of workers if the barriers to faith in Christ are to be breached.
- Backward Caste peoples represent anywhere from 27% to 52% of India's population, depending on definition and source. The most numerous include the Yadava (59.0m), Kurmi (17.9m), Teli (17.9m), Kunbi (16.6m), Kapu (15.9m), Nai (11.5m), Pashtun (11.3m), Mappila (9.6m), Lingayat (9.5m), Kairi (7.7m), Sonar (7.4m), Gujar (6.6m), Vakkaliga (6.3m) and literally thousands more. Of the groups listed above, all are less than 0.1% Christian, most less than 0.01% Christian.
- Scheduled Castes/Dalits have responded more to the gospel, some in large numbers. But the Dhobi (12.6m), Mahar (9.1m), Pasi (7.5m), Namasudra (5.1m), Rajbansi (5.0m), Bagdi (3.6m) and Pod (3.2m) are all less than 0.1% Christian.
- Numerous Scheduled Tribes are still unevangelized or underevangelized. After years of ministry, the Bhil (14.5m) and Gond (14.1m) have numerous churches among them, yet both are only around 1% Christian. The Koli (12.1m) are only 0.3% Christian.
- There are 485 people groups with populations of over 10,000 that are unreached and unengaged, almost three quarters of the world's 639 people groups that come under this category.
Students number over 11.5 million in 320 universities and 23,000 colleges. The large majority of these will graduate but be considered unemployable due to the competitiveness of industry and inadequate quality of education. Pray for the ministries of YFC, ICru, Inter Collegiate Prayer Fellowship (ICPF) and Union of Evangelical Students of India (UESI/IFES). UESI alone has 15,000 student members and 7,000 graduates. Pray for their clear, vibrant witness to the thousands of non-Christian students. Pray for their growth and integration into local churches.
The blind. As many as 15 million people in India are blind (and another 50 million visually impaired) - this is nearly 40% of the world's total. Of these cases, 70% would be preventable were there sufficient doctors and optometrists. Braille is an under-utilized tool. Agencies with ministry to blind people are Mission to the Blind, India Fellowship for Visually Handicapped and Torch Trust for the Blind. Compass Braille is an agency specializing in producing Braille Scriptures in Indian languages by means of computer. Christian audio resources such as Megavoice, Proclaimer and others are vital for reaching and discipling India's blind people.
The Indian diaspora now numbers nearly 30 million and is spread across 130 countries. Large numbers have emigrated to the Americas: USA (2.2m, where they have built over 500 Hindu temples), Canada (1.0m), Trinidad (500,000), Suriname (150,000); others to Europe: UK (1.5m), France (290,000); many to Africa: South Africa (920,000), Mauritius (870,000); to the Pacific: Fiji (310,000), Australia (225,000); to Asia: Nepal (5.5m), Malaysia (2.1m), Myanmar (2.5m), Sri Lanka (1.5m), Singapore (400,000); and to the Middle East: Saudi Arabia (1.4m), UAE (1.4m), Kuwait (560,000), Oman (385,000). They are influential in their adopted lands, especially in business, technology and culture. They are likewise a great influence on their relations and communities back in India. Many are open to the gospel - especially first-generation immigrants - and in some countries, there has been significant outreach and response (South Africa, USA, Canada, Mauritius, Middle East). Outreach by Indian missions to diaspora communities is overdue, as is the envisioning of diaspora Christians to reach out to India.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.