According to a 2019 report from Barna Research and Alpha, 51% of churchgoing Christians have never heard of the Great Commission. That means when pastors speak on the importance of sharing our faith with others, more than half of those seated in your pews have no idea that evangelism was Jesus’ idea, not the pastor’s. If we take the pulse of evangelism in the Church today, we’ll find ourselves asking the question does anyone really care about the Great Commission?
When I was younger, evangelistic language peppered nearly every sermon I heard on a Sunday morning. There was a shared urgency to share the gospel with those who did not yet know Jesus. Today, the topic of living a lifestyle of faith-sharing is about as taboo as preaching on tithing. Both make many parishioners squirm in their pews.
Where fear of rejection had been the leading deterrent to sharing one’s faith, fear of offending is now the leading culprit. Gone are our concerns for the eternal destiny of our friends. Instead, we politely listen as they express their beliefs, all the while keeping silent about our own. And we come to church week after week wondering why attendance is shrinking (and post-covid, nearly every church is shrinking), yet we still never think to have meaningful, spiritual conversations with our friends. We’ve turned our churches into Christian country clubs with closed memberships. This was never Jesus’ vision for his Church.
Why doesn’t the Church care about the Great Commission?
Barna’s research with Alpha also revealed that thirty-eight percent of the people who regularly warm your pews will attest to having no non-Christian family or friends. Pastors can preach all they want about the urgency of having salt and light conversations with our friends, or about the need to invite more friends to Alpha, but if your parishioners live in that thirty-eight percent, your words are falling on deaf ears. Your parishioners have no context in which to apply them.
Some parishioners will need to understand why living in a holy huddle is not a good idea. You may need to help your parishioners identify where they can begin to forge intentional relationships with people outside your church. Jesus modeled for us how to live a righteous life and yet be a friend to sinners. He had no trouble living in that tension. What might our churches look like if we followed Jesus’ lead and did likewise?
Other parishioners may have plenty of friends outside the church but actually think it’s wrong to share their faith with them. In the general population, twenty-seven percent of committed Christians feel this way, according to the Barna study. Among Millennials, that statistic is much higher: forty-seven percent feel it’s wrong to share their faith. Our churches have lost sight of Jesus’ plan for building his Church. Of Peter’s confession of his belief in Jesus as Lord, Jesus declared, “on this rock (Peter’s confession of faith) I will build my church.” (Matt 16:18) The Church can only be built when we share our confession of faith with those who don’t yet know Jesus. The best way to help the Church is to begin at the beginning, by educating our congregations about how to live out Jesus’ Great Commission.
What exactly is the Great Commission?
The Great Commission was of supreme importance to Jesus. It was the last thing he said to his disciples before ascending to the Father. And as we all know, what is intended not to be forgotten is always said last. Drive safely! Don’t forget your coat! I love you! immediately come to mind as examples of saving the most important thing for last. So, what did Jesus say exactly in his Great Commission?
Wait here to receive the Holy Spirit who will fill you with power from on high, power to fulfill your mission. This is your mission: Go everywhere, near and far, and train everyone you meet in the kingdom life of Christ. With the Holy Spirit in you, you’ll be empowered to be my witnesses here, there, and everywhere!
Chances are high that if you start preaching about our personal responsibility for evangelism and the Great Commission, you might lose a few members and visitors. They will find your words offensive. But the gospel is offensive and a stumbling block to many. (1 Cor 1: 18, 23) But be encouraged. Your experience will be no different than Jesus’. Just before the ascension and Jesus’ commissioning of all who would be his followers, Scripture records these words as the disciples headed to the mountain where they would meet Jesus,
The moment they saw him they worshipped him. Some though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally. (Matt 28:17 MSG)
Some fell away before receiving Jesus’ Great Commission over their lives. But for those who stayed and worshipped Jesus, their lives were about to be forever changed.
Will we care about the things God cares about?
The call to live an intentional lifestyle of faith-sharing will always be met with either rejection or worship-filled acceptance. Only a heart filled from worship will take on the risk of sharing the gospel. And only a heart filled with the love of God can spontaneously burst into worship. Worship births in us a godly desire to introduce our friends to our Jesus. Evangelism in its truest form is a bold act of worship.
Jesus received the worship of his close followers without letting the naysayers distract him. He continued, undeterred, “and gave (them) his charge: ‘God authorized and commanded me to commission you!’” (Matt 28:18)
We have all been commissioned by Jesus to tell the world of our love for him. It’s not a suggestion or a request. It’s a command, a commissioning. We are called to co-mission with Jesus in the work of building his Church, his kingdom on earth as in heaven. It will look different for each of us, but for all of us, it’s as simple as being like Andrew, finding our Peter, and saying, “Come! Meet my Jesus!”
Sharing the gospel with others is one of the boldest forms of worship. Let us boldly worship God by returning to our Great Co-Missioning with Christ, and together, build the Church Jesus always intended for us to become.
For more ideas on how to create an invitational culture within your church, please take a look at one of our recent trainings.