Emerging Generations and Evangelism
The Barna Group partnered up with Seed Company to research current knowledge of “The Great Commission.” Have you heard of the Great Commission?
Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘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.’
This passage is found in Matthew 28:18-20. The resurrected Jesus appears to his disciples on a mountain in Galilee. The eleven remaining disciples worship him, even though some have doubts. And though Matthew does not label this passage “The Great Commission,” it has often been called such in churches and traditions that stress evangelism, and has been cited as a mandate to share faith and invite others to trust in Jesus for salvation.
I grew up hearing a lot about the Great Commission (and, though not as often, the Great Commandment). But according to Barna, 51% of churchgoers do not know it. Only 17% of those who said they did know it were able to identify it, and one in four respondents were unable to identify where it was found. Only 37% of respondents, when given five options, were able to correctly identify the passage in Matthew 28. 2% of respondents thought the Great Commission was Jesus’ statement about giving to Caesar what is Caesar, and to God what is God’s.
Barna includes a fascinating demographic breakdown in their report:
Age also makes a significant difference in whether churchgoers recognize the Great Commission. More than one-quarter of Elders (29%) and Boomers (26%) says they know the text, compared to 17 percent of Gen X and one in 10 Millennials (10%). As with other churchgoing groups, people in all generations are more likely to choose the right passage from a set of options than to remember it unprompted. 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. Although not even half of any age group knows the Great Commission well, the youngest adult generation is least likely to recognize it. Again, this study cannot conclude whether respondents are ignorant of the scriptural mandate itself, or just unaware that it is commonly called the Great Commission; in this case, it’s possible older generations may be more familiar with the Great Commission because the term was previously more en vogue in Protestant missions.
Language about faith sharing changes. Barna is right to note that younger generations may know that sharing their faith is important, but have not heard this communicated in terms of the Great Commission.
Baptist News Global notes that the percentage of Gen Zers who identify as non-Christian, atheist, or irreligious is increasing. It may be a good time to revisit how we talk about evangelism and how we equip emerging generations to share their faith. Millennials and Gen Zers may be best equipped to translate the gospel to their friends and neighbors, peers who have yet to hear and respond to the good news about Jesus Christ.