The Great Commission and 3 Types of Churches

After Jesus walked out of the tomb alive and just before He ascended to heaven, Jesus gave His disciples authority to join His mission of reconciling people to God, people of all nations. Jesus commissioned His disciples, sending them out to make disciples. His words have been called the Great Commission:

“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20]

The mission Jesus gave His disciples is our mission, the mission of the churches we serve and lead. My friend Ed Stetzer has said, “More than the church has a mission, the mission has a church.” The Lord has created a church to fulfill His mission. The mission is given to His people. The mission has us.

Church leaders don’t have the freedom other organizational leaders have – the freedom to whiteboard, discuss, and create a mission for their organizations. We already have our mission. Sure, we can state the mission in contextual language for our churches, but the mission has already been given and it is clear.

The vast majority of church leaders embrace the Great Commission. There has been some discussion and debate thought around whether a single church is responsible for all aspects of the Great Commission (the reaching side and the teaching side). For example, some church leaders have said things like “we focus exclusively on the first half of the Great Commission.” There are three types of churches in relation to the Great Commission.

1. Those who focus on the first half

Churches that focus on the first half of the Great Commission think primarily about serving those who do not yet know God. They frame their teaching for almost exclusively unbelievers and they design their programs and events for those who do not go to church. They are passionate for people who do not yet know the Lord. After someone comes to faith and starts to grow in Christ, there is little for the person at the church. Some have said, “There are plenty of other churches who focus on the second half of the Great Commission.” Those leaders are correct. There is a plethora of the second type of church…

2. Those who focus on the second half

Churches that focus on the second half of the Great Commission think almost exclusively about those who are already Christian. The church is passionate to help believers grow, but even growing Christians would hesitate to bring their friend with them to this church. As much as the first type of church feels “overly seeker,” the second type of church feels like a Bible college class and very disconnected from people outside of the church. The messages are not understandable to someone who is not yet a believer and the activities of the church feel inaccessible to someone early in their faith journey. “Mission” is something that is merely outsourced to missionaries as the church does not view their local context as a recipient of that mission.

3. Those who focus on both.

Churches who focus on both sides of the Great Commission believe the two sides are inseparable. We are responsible to care for and teach those that we reach as we are commissioned to make disciples, not just make decisions. And those that we reach must be sent out to impact their world. This is where we must land. The dichotomy that is sometimes set up between discipleship and evangelism is a false dichotomy and not an option Jesus gave us. If evangelism does not result in discipleship, it is not the evangelism that Jesus envisioned. If discipleship does not result in more evangelism, then it is not really “teaching people to obey.” The end result of discipleship is not “teaching them everything” but “teaching them to obey everything.” It is transformational, not informational. 

Lesslie Newbigin said, “We have corrupted the word ‘church’ by constantly using it a non-missionary sense.” The church has a mission. And that mission is to make disciples and teach them to obey all Jesus has commanded. We need churches that focus on both.