The Great Commission: what is it?

By January 21, 2019

USA (MNN) – The Barna Group released research last year that shocked the Christian community in North America. According to the study conducted with the Seed Company, 51-percent of American churchgoers are not familiar with the term “Great Commission”. From there, a quarter of respondents said they heard of it but did not recall its “exact meaning,” 17 percent knew for sure, and 6 percent said they were not sure.

The study further revealed that even when presented with a list of passages, 37-percent didn’t recognize which well-known passage typically goes by this name. (Matthew 28:18-20, where Jesus says:“Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”)

Since then, church leaders have been parsing through the data, wondering what it might also reveal about the nature of sermon teaching, biblical literacy and engagement or Christian missions today. Barna is now releasing a study It also begged a question:  Where do we go from here?

(Image courtesy of Unsplash)

Greg Yoder, Executive Director at Keys For Kids, says there are two ways to look at the new information. Firstly, realize that this result could be reflective of the changing nature of communication with a different generation.

“I think that there’s been more of an updating of their language about what things are. So while they probably can’t say the Great Commission is ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel’, they probably still know that concept. The Bible does teach it, of course.”

When you look at how the description of ‘missions’ has changed into ‘ministry’, ‘outreach’ or ‘Gospel work’ to keep a church/donor audience engaged, Barna’s results look slightly different.

“I’m not as convinced with the Barna research that the Church doesn’t know what it is; I just don’t think that they call it that anymore. I think they call it something different.”

Recognizing Truth, learning in stories

But secondly, what is undeniable is the issue of biblical illiteracy.

In 2015, a LifeWay Research study found that while Christians claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word, 45-percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. (Click here to read results from a 2017 LifeWay study) Over 40-percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day.

Given that, Yoder says Barna’s results are no surprise. “There are a lot of people, Christians included, that can’t tell you specific areas of the Bible where some of these most popular Bible stories are. You hear story after story after story where you talk about Noah and the flood, Jonah and the whale, and they don’t know where those things are. So I think there’s a case to state that there is a lack of biblical literacy within our churches today.”

(Image courtesy of Keys For Kids)

(Image courtesy of Keys For Kids)

Building discipline, together

That trend will continue unless something changes, and it starts with changes at home. Yoder says Keys For Kids is trying encourage parents to lead by example through daily time spent in God’s Word. For the many times parents have tried and failed to keep the interest vibrant in daily devotionals, he offers the Keys For Kids devotional as a resource.

“Because we know that there’s a biblical literacy issue, we’re putting a challenge out there for 2019: Take the 40-Day Challenge.  Say ‘I’m going to commit to doing this for 40 days.’ I think as you begin reading stories, as you begin reading the Bible with your families, your kids start loving it because they’re spending quality time with you. You start doing it for 40-days, you start developing a habit.”

Each day’s offering is a story about an issue, with a biblical application point and some Scripture that applies to that day’s subject.  What’s more, “Kids come to Christ because even as a part of the Keys For Kids devotional, even though we know that we’re probably talking to a lot of believers, we know that there are lot of kids who don’t know Christ. So, they begin reading the stories and seeing that, ‘Hey! Some these stories that we are reading are about me!’”

So, the first step is to commit. “Say ‘I’m going to do this for 40 days’, and see what happens to your family life; see what happens to your kids.”

The second is to clear the space for it. “We have a responsibility to one, turn off the television; (two), turn off our smart devices; and (three) spend some time with our kids in the Word.”

The final step is to figure out which of the Keys For Kids resources you can use.  Most of the resources are free, plus, says Yoder, ”You can use your smart device to do that, in fact, that’s why Keys For Kids has developed an app, and developed our printed devotional (for a Kindle device), so that you can use the technology, but kind of redeeming the technology so you can teach your kids about the Word.”



Header image of globe courtesy Wikipedia.

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