This is a Guest Post by Thom S. Rainer. Dr. Rainer is president of Lifeway Christian Resources. His blog is fast becoming a “go to” resource for church leaders. I respect him as a leader, pastor, father and fellow introverted friend.
Four Reasons the Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission in a Church
In my latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, I highlight several symptoms that can lead to the death of a church. These symptoms can become sicknesses themselves, sicknesses that lead to death. Some churches begin with a great heart and a great effort toward the Great Commission. But the methods used become the focus rather than the Great Commission itself. As a consequence, the Great Commission becomes the great omission.
There are a number of New Testament passages where Jesus sends out His followers. The text that is used most often to refer to the Great Commission is Matthew 28:19–20: “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.”
The imperative in those verses is “go.” But as we go, there are several sub-commands. We are to make disciples. We are to baptize. We are to teach.
Those are a lot of action words.
But the deceased church, somewhere in its history, forgot to act upon the Great Commission. So they stopped going. And making disciples. And baptizing them. And teaching them.
It stopped depending on Christ. Why? Here are four common reasons.
1. “Going” in Christ’s power requires effort. Certainly the results are dependent upon Him, but obedience is work. And obedience in His power means that we are praying to Jesus so we can reach others. That requires an “others” focus. That requires us to look beyond ourselves. That requires us to get uncomfortable. That requires us to go. The deceased churches simply gave up on going.
2. Obedience to the Great Commission faded. It usually faded gradually. It’s not like one day the church was sending out dozens of members in the community and it suddenly stopped. Instead the decline in the outward focus was gradual, almost imperceptibly gradual.
3. The church had “Great Commission amnesia.” That really may be too kind. Perhaps that description implies that the members were not at fault, that they no longer had the ability to recall or know what they were supposed to do. But they really knew better. They just used amnesia as an excuse.
4. Most of these dying churches had “Great Commission disobedience.” They chose not to remember what to do. They chose their own comfort over reaching others with the gospel. That is why the autopsy results concluded that the Great Commission became the great omission.
I am an obnoxious optimist about churches in America. I know many are struggling. Indeed, some are dying; about ten churches in the United States die every day. But I still remain an optimist because I see God’s work in so many congregations across our nation.
The essence of a “great omission” church is that the congregation has lost its passion to reach people. Typically, the efforts of those churches are pointed toward taking care of the members’ preferences. When the preferences of church members are greater than their passion for the gospel, the church is dying.
Churches can reverse the painful decline toward death. They can avoid becoming another casualty subject to an autopsy. Indeed, church members can decide to stop asking how the church can meet their own preferences, but ask how they might serve Jesus no matter what the cost.
Then the church is no longer a great omission church. She is then a Great Commission church.