Solving for the global missions disconnect

The Great Commission clearly makes global evangelism the work of the Church. And unlike other important cause categories like human trafficking or world hunger, if the Church doesn’t take up this cause, no one else will. Yet, in American churches, there seems to be a number of disconnects between leaders and congregants about global missions.

A new report from Barna Group, in partnership with Mission India, seeks to help churches identify and overcome barriers to fulfilling The Great Commission.

What will it take for U.S. churches to be more actively engaged in a global-missions movement that is already happening around the world? Perhaps the barriers Barna identifies can become starting points for solving the problem and helping the Church become more invested in missions around the world.

Here are seven of the disconnects Barna addresses in the research:

Biblical ignorance

In Barna’s earlier research, Translating The Great Commission, Barna found that U.S. churchgoers had little grasp on the biblical foundation for missions. When asked if they knew what the Great Commission was, more than half of U.S. churchgoers said they had never heard of it and could not identify the verses associated with this command from Jesus – even when presented with a brief list.

While 85 percent of pastors say missions is a biblical mandate for all Christians, only 25 percent of Christians believe this. And only one in three say they strongly agree that American Christians have a responsibility to share the gospel.

What leaders and pastors can do
Determine sermon topics that can help your church understand the Great Commission, but don’t stop there. Share your church’s missions plans, and explain that every Christian has a role to play in it.

Global ignorance

Most U.S. Christians can’t say how many unreached people there are in the world. When asked, 79 percent either answer incorrectly or say they don’t know. “And while the growth of global Christianity shifts substantially to Africa, Latin America, and Asia, U.S. Christians remain oblivious,” Barna says, with 68 percent saying they believe “the U.S. is the modern center of Christianity.” Among those who are familiar with the Great Commission, however, there is a strong sense of the need to reach the unreached.

What leaders and pastors can do
Find partners who can explain the needs of the unreached world, both physical and spiritual. Provide resources for those who want to know more, consider calling on the more creative congregants in your church to help identify ways to share these facts in visible ways in your church.

Differing visions

“As a whole, the U.S. Church believes missions should [address] both spiritual and physical needs,” Barna’s research found. However, individual Christians tend to gravitate toward one or the other. Almost all Christians feel positive about missions (96 percent). And pastors and congregants agree on a definition of missions: “sharing Jesus with others.” However, they differ on how to participate in mission work. Church leaders prefer a spiritual approach to missions, while many in their pews value methods that include meeting physical needs. A closer look shows an even greater disconnect.

What leaders and pastors can do
Evaluate the missions programs of your church. Do you lean in one direction more than another? If you feel the balance needs a shift, be sure your church is teaching about the biblical reasons for making the shift.


Those who understand the Great Commission tend to be more aware of global issues and are more likely to support and engage in mission efforts. They also tend to be more generous. Of those with a scriptural understanding of the Great Commission, 53 percent say they are currently supporting some kind of mission work and often do so for five years or more.

What leaders and pastors can do
Acknowledge not only the biblical mandate for the Great Commission, but also the positive results that come from engaging in it. Provide exposure to giving opportunities, so congregants can tangibly experience supporting mission organizations and missionaries.

Models and methods

More than half of Christians say that supporting missions makes them feel proud to be a Christian. But a large majority of Christians (78 percent) say the sending (or cross-cultural) model is the better way to do missions. This is what churchgoers feel comfortable with and has been the model for centuries, even though most American Christians also say they would prefer that their own pastor be from their area and familiar with their local culture. Most pastors, on the other hand, want to equip and train indigenous church leaders (87 percent). Younger generations stand out among Christians as the most likely to agree with pastors about this.

What leaders and pastors can do
Give the missions organizations you partner with visibility in your congregation, and seek their input in making decisions. Make this process visible to the congregation, or – maybe even better – invite those interested to participate in the decision-making process.

Measuring impact

Pastors have a clear eye to what they see as important in measuring the impact of missions. “The extent of change or difference made in people’s lives” is the main way 35 percent of pastors believe impact should be measured. Another 23 percent say the best way to measure impact is by counting the number of people who heard the gospel or learned about Jesus. But there is a disconnect here. And 19 percent of pastors say they do not measure the success of their missions programs at all; another one in 10 says their church doesn’t even try to measure. While some agree with pastors about using the metric of those who receive the gospel and demonstrate life change as the measure of impact, a larger segment of people report being unsure about what is the best way to quantify the impact of missions.

What leaders and pastors can do
Seek out and learn from other church leaders who run successful missions programs. (If you can’t find any in your area, ask the missions organizations you work with who they would recommend.) As you plan mission efforts with your church, define impactet measurable goals that reflect what cannot be measured (like heart change).


Most Christians and pastors say they believe prayer is effective in supporting global missions. In fact, prayer fueled Jesus’ first disciples, and missionaries were often commissioned as the result of the Holy Spirit’s leading during times of prayer, fasting, and worship (See Acts 13:1-3). Yet, global missions is the subject of corporate prayer less often than other topics. Pastors report their churches pray at least weekly for “those in need” (66 percent). They pray for people who don’t know Jesus and for local missions (61 and 47 percent, respectively). Global missions ranks sixth among prayer topics, at 37 percent.

What leaders and pastors can do
How can you invite your congregants to pray regularly for missionaries or indigenous Christian workers your church supports? Let times of prayer follow teaching on global missions, or invite leaders of the missions you support come and lead prayer within your church.

* * *

We have barely scratched the surface of Barna’s deep and wide look at Christians, pastors, and global missions in this report. If you’re interested in learning more, you can find Barna’s monograph, The Great Disconnect, on their website.

Image: Barna, used with permission.

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