By Aaron Earls
They were Jesus’ last words before He ascended to the Father and have driven the church’s mission for the last 2,000 years, but 51 percent of American churchgoers say they’ve never heard of “the Great Commission.”
A new study from Barna Research found a troubling lack of awareness of the Great Commission.
Not only do half (51 percent) say they’ve never heard the phrase, 25 percent say they’ve heard of it but can’t remember the exact meaning.
Fewer than 1 in 5 (17 percent) say they’ve heard of the Great Commission and know what it means.
When given a list of five verses containing prominent words of Jesus, 37 percent could pick out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
A third (33 percent) still said they weren’t sure if any of those verses were it and 16 percent chose the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40), which is often summarized as “Love God and love others.”
Among the generations, elders—defined by Barna as those born prior to 1946—are most likely to say they know what it is (29 percent).
Smaller percentages of baby boomers (26 percent) and Generation X (17 percent) say have heard of and know the Great Commission. And only 10 percent of millennials say the same.
Appropriately enough, evangelicals are the most likely to say they know the Great Commission (60 percent) and the most likely to correctly identify the passage (74 percent).
The increased familiarity among evangelicals probably has to do with greater emphasis on the phrase from the pulpit.
Non-mainline pastors are more likely than mainline pastors to mention the Great Commission in a missions sermon (15 percent versus 6 percent).
Among Baptist pastors, 18 percent say their last sermon about missions was specifically on the Great Commission. Among Southern Baptists, 28 percent say that’s the case.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.