51 Percent of American Churchgoers Unfamiliar With the Term 'Great Commission': Barna

Organizers say that 32,000 people attended in the Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, and 3,488 people made decisions for Christ on Sunday, August 30, 2015, for Harvest Crusade Anaheim.
Organizers say that 32,000 people attended in the Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, and 3,488 people made decisions for Christ on Sunday, August 30, 2015, for Harvest Crusade Anaheim. | (Courtesy of Harvest Ministries)

A little over half of American churchgoers are not familiar with the term "Great Commission," according to a study conducted by the Barna Group and the Seed Company.

The "Great Commission" is a term used to describe Jesus' call to evangelism in Matthew 28:18-20: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

In a report released Tuesday, Barna found that 51 percent of church attendees in the United States were unfamiliar with the term "Great Commission."

From there, 25 percent of respondents said they heard of it but did not recall its "exact meaning," 17 percent knew for sure, and 6 percent said they were not sure.

"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," noted Barna.

Barna drew from data based off of interviews conducted last October of 1,004 American adult churchgoers, with the term "churchgoers" being defined as someone who had attended worship within the past six months.

The report found mixed results for Millennial respondents. Compared to older generations, Millennials were not only the least likely to correctly identify the Great Commission based on the verse in Matthew, they were also the least likely among adult generations to not know what the Great Commission is.

"Roughly two in five people among the three oldest generations correctly identify the Great Commission (43% of Elders, 42% of Boomers, 41% of Gen X). Churchgoing Millennials, however, are about as likely to misidentify (36%) as to correctly identify (34%) the Great Commission," the Barna report noted.

Barna researchers nevertheless cautioned that "this study cannot conclude whether respondents are ignorant of the scriptural mandate itself, or just unaware that it is commonly called the Great Commission."

Barna's report on the familiarity American Christians have with the term "Great Commission" comes a few months after the American Culture & Faith Institute released a study showing that American churches are not emphasizing evangelism.

An organization headed by Barna Group founder George Barna, the ACFI, noted last December that a decreasing number of churches "emphasize and equip people for evangelism these days, and the results are obvious and undeniable."

"The implications of ignoring gospel outreach — especially among children, who are the most receptive audience to the gospel — are enormous," stated ACFI.

"All the 'church growth' strategies in the world cannot compensate for the absence of an authentic transmission of the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for humanity."

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