Recently, Barna, a faith-based research center, partnered with the Seed Company to conduct a study on churches in the United States. The study included questions regarding missions, social justice, translation of the Bible, and a variety of other topics.
One of the most surprising statistics that came back was that when asked if they had, “heard of the Great Commission,” 50% of churchgoers said no. They responded that they did not know what the term meant. Another 25% stated that “the Great Commission” was familiar sounding, but could not detail what it was. Another 6% stated they were not sure if they had ever heard the term “the Great Commission” before. Lastly, a mere 17% of churchgoers knew what “the Great Commission,” is.
The Great Commission is a fundamental part of the Christian faith, which is why the study was so surprising.
Matthew 28:18-20 states:
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The passage in Matthew calls Christians to “go and make disciples of all nations,” which is fundamental to the calling God gives to all Christians. The data could argue that churches are failing to use the phrase nowadays, or that simply churchgoers are not using it. It could also reveal that Christians have stopped adopting the phrase in order to prioritize other facets of their lives.
Barna continued asking questions regarding the Great Commission, by giving the churchgoers five passages of scripture and asking them to determine which was the Great Commission.
37% of churchgoers correctly identified the passage from scripture, which was a lot better than the those who could detail the Great Commission solely by its name. 94% of churchgoers who stated they had heard of the Great Commission before could identify the correct passage of scripture. 33% of churchgoers did not know which verse was detailing the Great Commission, and 31% gave an incorrect answer.
A factor that stood out in the churchgoer’s knowledge of the Great Commission was their age. The study showed that even though not even half of any age group could identify the Great Commission, the youngest generation, Millennials, are least likely to recognize it. 29% of Elders and 26% Boomers said they knew the text, compared to 17% of Gen X and 10% of Millennials.
When they provided them with the different scripture to choose from, 43% of Elders, 42% of Boomers, 41% of Gen X, and 34% of Millennials answer it correctly.
The study is not stating that millennials are just ignorant of scripture, but that they could just be unaware of what the passage is called. On the other hand, it could be that they are less educated on the scriptural mandate than older generations.
It is important to note that the awareness of the Great Commission also depends on one’s denominational affiliation, church attendance, engagement with scripture and faith practice. The study shows that 25% of practicing Christians can recognize the Great Commission while only 6% of non-practicing Christians can. That is over four times the rate!
Another statistic shows that 60% Evangelicals state that they have heard of the Great Commission, making them the largest denomination to do so.
Although these statistics might be alarming, one should not assume knowing the Great Commission has a direct tie to one’s commitment to Christianity. It could just be their denomination does not explicitly detail it, or it’s called something else. Despite the reason for not knowing the Great Commission, it is a startling fact that 51% of churchgoers do not know it.