A new Barna survey—conducted in partnership with Mission India—reveals that U.S. pastors overwhelmingly view missions as a Biblical mandate, while the majority of American churchgoers see missions as a calling for some, not a Scriptural command for all Christians.
While 85% of pastors—regardless of denomination—believe that missions is a responsibility of every Christian, just 42% of practicing Christians have the same conviction. Barna defines “practicing Christians” as Christians who have attended a worship service within the past month and strongly agree their faith is very important to their life.
Interestingly, data shows that only 53% of practicing Christians are aware of what is often referred to as “the Great Commission” in Matthew 28.
The passage reads: “Then Jesus came to [his disciples] 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’” (verses 18-20, NIV).
Yet among Christians who are familiar with the Great Commission, 61% view missions as a mandate.
Some 88% of pastors specified that they find more value in missions that equip indigenous or local leaders to spread the Gospel than in short-term missions trips.
“We see this disparity in the church where pastors believe that the Great Commission is part of Kingdom advancement locally and globally, and then U.S. churchgoers just thought that it was for those people that travel overseas,” David Chakranarayan, church engagement director with Mission India, told Mission Network News.
But researchers see opportunities to bridge the gap between the pulpit and the pew.
“Pastors could lean in to better understand and shape how congregants interpret missions,” Barna suggests. “Does their participation mean donating money, praying, educating, evangelizing, relocating or something else?”
Beyond the survey, Barna Group and Mission India have created a report called “The Great Disconnect: Reclaiming the Heart of the Great Commission in Your Church.” The report uncovers many misconceptions and inconsistencies within the American church when it comes to missionary work, and equips and challenges pastors to “build an expanded, global view of missions within their churches and evaluate ways God is calling their congregations to uniquely reach the unreached.”