51% Of Churchgoers Are Unaware of The Great Commission
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.
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.
What, then, ARE churches teaching these days?!
Do you know how depressing this is for a pastor to read? It’s like the owner of a lumber yard discovering that 51% of American contractors/homebuilders have never heard of wood and its practical uses! Its like a dairy farmer reading that 51% of American’s are suddenly lactose intolerant! Its like a high school calculus teacher discovering that 51% of his students have never even heard of numbers and can’t even count to 10! One more: Its like 9 guys sitting around on a baseball diamond, wearing pinstriped uniforms, holding wooden bats and leather gloves — but 5 of the 9 have never heard of home plate! I think you get my point.
Now that this Barna Report has left me completely depressed on the Tuesday of Holy Week, let me engage in some self-therapy (or venting) by offering my own, snarky, tongue-in-cheek satire of Matthew 28:
16 [Literally moments after Jesus broke the bonds of death, overcame the grave, dealt with our sins and our self-centered ways, proving once and for all that there’s NOTHING His power can’t accomplish] the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go [but a few decided it was too far a trip to Galilee, they had a long week at work, the hike up the mountain sounded exhausting — especially with 3 kids — and so a couple disciples stayed home while a couple more started the trip but ended up just chillin’ at Starbuck’s halfway]. 17 When they saw [Jesus], they worshiped him; but some doubted [because they just weren’t “feeling anything”, probably due to a lack of special effects, or a hip worship band accompanying him, a fog machine and 4-star children’s program].18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” [and half of them immediately left in a huff, offended that any leader would claim such positional authority: “I mean, who does this guy think he is?”]19 Jesus continued, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations [which they took to mean give money to the few specially called pastors & missionaries to do that kind of work; “Doesn’t he realize I have a business to run and mouths to feed at home?”] , “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 [which got them bogged down a feisty debate on the Trinity and over the proper mode of baptism that divided the few disciples left into various factions each declaring the other side heretical] “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you [except all the stuff that offends your current way of life like “self-denial”, “taking up a cross”, “loving your enemies, giving generously to the poor, etc.] And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”[To which Thomas said, “Well, I won’t believe you’re here unless I can see you”, and many nodded in agreement. So they went back down the mountain, back to their ordinary lives. The eleven still attend church about 3 times every two months, but largely live their life as if Jesus were far removed from their daily business — certainly not as though he were really “with them”].
I have news for all of us: Jesus really meant what he said and he keeps his side of the deal. He is indeed with us always — at home, at work, and at church with us.
Will Willimon has often played with the fact that we automatically take Jesus’ promise to “be with you always, even to the end of the age” as a word of comfort and solace. Willimon prods pastors and lazy church-goers alike to also hear a bit of a warning in those words. Like a good father sending his son out to paint a fence or weed the garden, he says with a firm tone: “Now don’t you forget: I’ll be right here, watching you each step of the way, looking over your shoulder to make sure you don’t get too distracted, and to make sure the job gets done!”
And we have a lot of work left to do, church. There’s still a lot of planting and weeding to be done before that final sun sets! Who’s with me?