Barna Takes: Living Out the Great Commission with a Global Perspective
It’s hard to do the work we do at Barna and not be moved, personally, at some point or another by the data stories we uncover.
Though our team is often looked at as experts in issues related to the Church and Christian culture, we rarely enter a project without questions of our own to resolve. Many times, it’s the expertise of partners and others that helps put a project on track for the greatest impact and influence. Our latest study on missions, The Great Disconnect, proved to be one of these times.
I was a new addition to Barna’s editorial team when this research started. As I sifted through the data and heard perspectives from missiologists, I reflected on my own minimal experience and narrow views concerning missions.
I’d been on one missions trip in my life: a weeklong visit to Costa Rica during college. It was moving, inspiring, eye-opening. We prayed with people in the impoverished neighborhood of La Cuenca, visited their homes, ate with them, served them, even cried with them. But once I got home, the “buzz” of that trip didn’t last long. This is no knock on the wonderful church I was attending at the time or the committed local missionaries we connected with during our visit.
Turns out, my experience and engagement with missions was not uncommon, and it aligned with what we saw in the data among U.S. Christians. Today, many churchgoers are well-intentioned with a general desire to share their faith and care for and connect with the world. But they misinterpret what the Great Commission means for their lives (if they know the Great Commission at all) and view missions as not-so-urgent work that only a select group of Christians are called to do.
As I helped craft the report with the research and editorial team, I was compelled, convicted even, to get more involved in missions through my own church. Though I know and understand the Great Commission, I began to ask myself, “How am I living this out, with a global perspective?” A whopping 3.3 billion people in the world don’t have access to a Christian, the gospel message or a church. Yet, U.S. Christians remain largely uninformed about and inactive in global missions work.
So, what could involvement look like?
Carrying out the Great Commission doesn’t have to mean a life of service in a foreign country. In The Great Disconnect, we were able to explore different models and approaches to global missions. Though sending people to countries foreign to them is the more popular approach to missions in the U.S., there are churches who do meaningful work by partnering with local, indigenous leaders in areas of great need for the gospel—rather than going to these places themselves. In fact, the strong majority of U.S. pastors believes equipping indigenous leaders is more important than short-term efforts. Strategic prayer for specific countries / people groups and giving to missions long-term are other meaningful ways to stay engaged.
There’s also a lack of knowledge that pastors must be mindful of. There is some misunderstanding around common missiology terms like “indigenous,” “10 / 40 Window,” “unreached” and “people groups,” or even confusion around where Christianity is growing or declining. We found that churchgoers are looking to their pastors for guidance on how to engage in missions. Adding definitions and compelling real-world narratives around these realities can go a long way in helping congregants understand the need, and transparency regarding finances and partnership often motivates them to get involved.
Missions deserves to be one of the core ministries of every church. Why? Because it is one of Christ’s core commands for every disciple. The Great Disconnect uncovers the disjointed views of those who likely represent a good chunk of people sitting in the pews of your church. I saw myself in some of the data, and it changed me for the better. My hope is this report will prompt similar positive change in you and your church. Imagine what could be if every well-meaning Christian made room for missions, for the long-haul.