Matthew 28:18-20 is the most well-known biblical record of what is commonly referred to extra-biblically as “the Great Commission.” But despite the significance of these and other verses that call Christians to “go and make disciples of all nations,” a surprising proportion of churchgoing Christians in the U.S. are generally unaware of these famous words from Jesus.
In partnership with Seed Company, Barna conducted a study of the U.S. Church’s ideas about missions, social justice, Bible translation and other aspects of spreading the gospel around the world, available now in the new report Translating the Great Commission. When asked if they had previously “heard of the Great Commission,” half of U.S. churchgoers (51%) say they do not know this term. It would be reassuring to assume that the other half who know the term are also actually familiar with the passage known by this name, but that proportion is low (17%). Meanwhile, “the Great Commission” does ring a bell for one in four (25%), though they can’t remember what it is. Six percent of churchgoers are simply not sure whether they have heard this term “the Great Commission” before.
The data indicates that churches are using the phrase less, which may reveal a lack of prioritizing or focusing on the work of the Great Commission, but may also indicate that the phrase, rather than the scriptures or the labor, has simply fallen out of favor with some.
Taking a different tack, Barna also presented churchgoers with five different passages from scripture and asked them to identify which one is known as the Great Commission. A little more than one-third of churchgoers (37%) correctly identifies the Bible passage—far more than those who recognize the Great Commission in name alone. Nearly all of the churchgoers who indicate they have previously heard of the Great Commission (94%) also select the passage in Matthew 28. The remainder of churchgoers either does not know which of these verses is the Great Commission (33%) or offers an incorrect answer (31%).
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