Four Reasons the Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission in a Church

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.

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7 thoughts on “Four Reasons the Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission in a Church

  1. Ron

    How about a # 5? Most of these dying…
    501 (c) 3, Non-Profit, Tax $ Deductible, Religious $ Corporations, the IRS calls church.
    Are dying because they do NOT follow the instructions of Jesus on how to make Disciples.

    Mat 28:19:20 NKJV
    Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…
    **teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you**

    Seems easy enough – read the four Gospels – Even make a list…
    Teach, observe, what Jesus Did, Taught, and Commanded His Disciples.
    Teach, observe, what His Disciples Did and Taught.

    BUT – I’ve noticed MOST “Church Leaders,” Most pastor/leaders, Today…
    *Ignore* or *Twist* what Jesus Did and Taught and Commanded His Disciples.
    And – What His Disciples “observed Jesus doing” and what they Did and Taught.

    Here is some of what Jesus, “The Word of God,” taught “His Disciples”
    That, for the most part, is NOT being taught in “Today’s Religious System.”

    1 – NOT to be called teacher for you have “ONE” teacher, Christ. Mt 23:8 NKJV
    2 – NOT to be called leader for you have “ONE” leader, Christ, Mt 23:10 NASB
    …. And, NOT one of His Disciples called them self Leader.
    3 – ALL shall be taught of God. Jn 6:45 KJV
    …. John taught, you need NO man teach you.
    4 – ALL things, shall be taught you by the Holy Spirit, God. Jn 14:26
    …. Paul taught, the Gospel he preached was from God, NOT from man.
    5 – ALL truth, will come as the Spirit of truth guides and leads. Jn 16:13
    6 – Jesus, as man, does nothing of himself, and is taught of God. Jn 8:28
    7 – Jesus is the “ONE” Shepherd, the Good Shepherd. Jn 10:11-16.
    …. And, NOT one of His Disciples had the “Title” – shepherd/leader/reverend.
    8 – He who speaks of himself seeks his own glory. ( Titles/Position?) Jn 7:18.
    …. And, NOT one of His Disciples called themself – pastor/leader/reverend.
    9 – If I honour myself, my honour is nothing. (Titles/Position?) Jn 8:54
    10 – Peter, knowing Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God,
    …. received *the revelation* from Father *God,* and NOT from man. Mt 16:17
    …. NOT from Jesus, as man. Jesus gave “All” the glory, all the credit to God.
    11 – I am among you as he that serves. Lu 22:27
    12 – He that shall humble himself shall be exalted. Mt 23:12.
    …. Humble – A modest or low opinion of one’s own importance.
    …. And, ALL His Disciples called themselves “Servants.”

    And – Jesus taught a lot in the Streets and had His Disciples DO what He DID, in the streets.
    Luke 9:2.And He sent them out to preach the kingdom and Heal the sick.

    Kinda hard for those who call themselves teachers/leaders, to be making Disciples of Jesus…
    When Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to be called teacher – NOT to be called leader…

    If someone “Ignores” what Jesus taught His Diciples?
    If some one “Opposes” what Jesus taught His Diciples?

    And, calls them self leader?
    And allows others to call them leader?

    Are they one of His Disciples?

  2. I think sometimes when we say things like "the church" needs to do this or do that, people in this generation tend to "shrug" off when a pastor is speaking to the "church" as a whole, we need to start pinpointing personally, we ALL personally have this responsibility from our house to another house, to neighborhoods, to work, to all the places we meet up divinely with people, it begins with us, we are the church, it begins with me… religion is great and religious talk is good, but relationship is better and being in a vital-vertical relationship with God 1st is BEST, because out of this the birth of the Great Commission needs to be seeded and then collectively it will be powerful. It is my responsibility to be called to God 1st and go… and the best way to do that is hook up with others and together be the church, but we can't make a flame if our individual candles are not lit. I believe if the church light has dimmed in this area, then the leadership needs to begin one on one lighting candles until the whole church is ablaze.
    Twitter: kmac4him

    • I think one of the great challenges in our era of “church research” is how to interpret the data. I agree with much of this this post from Rainer, but my concern is that the solution is looked for in the diagnosis. If someone has a cold one of the symptoms is a runny nose. It would be of no use to tell someone with a cold the cure would be “stop letting your nose run.” It is the same with the Church. The symptoms are: not-going, disobedience, not trying. This is true. But the solution to start at is most certainly not: trying harder, going harder, simply being more obedient. Why? Because this is contrary to the Gospel. The Gospel does not simply aim to treat symptoms, but wants to give the cure. The symptoms will eventually sort themselves out. The Gospel never works from obedience to grace, but always works from grace to obedience. Otherwise churches are only left with greater guilt and shame for being so “inferior”, for being so “not-going”. Yes, obedience is very important, but in the context of what we have received in Christ, not what we must achieve through our works. There is nothing more tiring and enslaving than trying to serve Christ from guilt and shame. I think this is happening with many Churches and they simply give up along the way. We focus much on what we must do, and not enough on what Christ has done.

      • AWE-GOD! What Christ Has Done Is Freed Us And In Freeing Us, We Are In The Presence Of God And We Are Able To Know HIM, Truly Know HIM In A Relationship That Is Heart To Heart… Being So… There Is Nothing I Would Not DO For Him, And Because I Know Such An Excellent, Lavishing Love, All I Want To Do Is Love And Be Loved, Please And Be Pleased And Be A Vital Part Of Everything He Is Doing! This Is The Church, His Bride, So In Love With The Bridegroom… I have that kind of love in my relationship with my husband, I don't have any hang ups about loving and being loved by him and others, I had a good childhood, I was loved greatly, so it easy for me, but in this generation it is not so easy for a lot of people to know how to love and be loved and the more we can connect them to JESUS is a "real" relationship 1st, He will heal, restore and HE will send them.. the focus needs to be in the connection with Jesus, not the connection with the law, because this is why Jesus did what He did.
        Twitter: kmac4him

  3. I believe numbers two or three could be replaced or the following added; Many simply replace authentic commission obedience with replica commission obedience. They substitute doing commission work with giving or something that fills "commission" work that isn't.