While a majority of pastors agree that every disciple of Jesus Christ is mandated in Scripture to “go and make disciples” as part of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19–20, most Christians believe this mandate only applies to some disciples, not all, a new study from Barna shows.
The study, "The Great Disconnect: Reclaiming the Heart of the Great Commission in Your Church," which was conducted in partnership with Mission India, highlights a yawning gap between the way pastors and their congregants see missionary work.
Researchers behind the study utilized both qualitative and quantitative data in the report, including six focus groups with U.S. Protestant pastors. These focus groups were 90-minute discussions conducted from Nov. 9-Dec. 15, 2020, via Zoom.
One quantitative study for the report consisted of one online survey of 2,000 U.S. self-identified Christian adults conducted June 8-28, 2021, while another surveyed 507 Protestant senior pastors between Oct. 12-28, 2021.
Researchers found that while some 85% of pastors maintain that all Christians should make disciples in the world, only 53% of practicing Christians reported knowledge of the Great Commission. Some 51% of Christians also believe missions is a calling for some, while another 25% said it is not a mandate for all.
“Both leaders and churchgoers must unpack why this gap exists,” researchers said. “Pastors could lean in to better understand and shape how congregants interpret missions. Does their participation mean donating money, praying, educating, evangelizing, relocating or something else?”
"Whether they see missions work as an option or a responsibility, pastors and Christians have varying views on what matters most in missions and what it should accomplish," researchers added.
Some 88% of pastors, for example, noted it is more important that missions equip indigenous or local leaders to spread the Gospel, while just 46% of Christians say the same. Some 77% of pastors also say it is more important to spread the Gospel than promote justice, 15%. Christians gave both pursuits almost equal weight — 43% versus 37%, respectively.
“Accordingly, we see Christians favor transforming the health of communities and meeting physical needs, while pastors hope to meet spiritual needs foremost,” researchers said. “Overall, missions values differ considerably between the pulpit and the pew.”
Insights published by Barna in a report titled "Growing Together" and cited by The Christian Post last month, show that 56% of Christians in the U.S. see their spiritual lives as entirely private, which is counterproductive to fulfilling the Great Commission.
“Discipleship is a powerful way to meet a communal need for vulnerability and companionship,” researchers said in that study.
“When Jesus discipled the 12, the spiritual and day-today matters of their lives intermingled. Life was not private or compartmentalized. Meals and miracles, frustration and affection, sermons and naps, trials and celebrations — they shared it all,” they added. “Christians should consider what it would mean to do the same today.”