It's one of the most well-known passages in the Bible that commands followers of Jesus Christ to "go and make disciples of all nations," yet a new study shows a shocking number of American Christians have never heard of what is commonly known as "the Great Commission."
The passage, found in Matthew 28:18-20 says, "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.'"
Christian researcher George Barna discovered that half of U.S. churchgoers, a staggering 51 percent, said they had never "heard of the Great Commission" term and among those who had, only 17 percent were familiar with the Biblical passage reference.
Barna, who has spent years studying the religious landscape of America, wanted to learn more about the church's views and ideas about missions.
He posed the following question to a nationally represented sample: "Have you heard of the Great Commission?" Here's how people responded:
.6 percent answered "I'm not sure"
.17 percent answered "Yes, and it means..."
.25 percent answered "Yes, but I can't recall the exact meaning"
.51 percent answered "No"
"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," Barna's group said on its website.
Age also was a big factor in determining whether people had heard about 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%)," researchers found.
Barna also presented participants with five different Bible verses and asked them to select the passage known as the Great Commission.
"A little more than one-third of churchgoers (37%) correctly identifies the Bible passage—far more than those who recognize the Great Commission in name alone," the survey recorded.
One group that did do well in the survey were evangelicals. 60 percent of them had heard of the Great Commission.
"Evangelicals are the most likely churchgoing group to state that they have heard of the Great Commission and remember what it is," the survey found. "When selecting the Great Commission from the series of verses, three of four churchgoing evangelicals (74%) correctly identify it, the largest portion among churchgoing groups."
Read the full details of the survey here.