Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001? I do too. That is a morning very difficult to forget.
I was sitting in the lobby restaurant of a hotel in a major USA city having breakfast with the national director for church planting for a mainline Protestant denomination. We were talking about what it would take for his denomination to move from starting around a dozen new congregations per year to starting 100 per year.
This seemingly impossible goal would take his denomination to the level of starting a number of new congregations each year equal to three percent of the number of congregations they currently had affiliated with them. Three percent is the foundational figure I learned from Lyle Schaller several decades ago. It is a solid figure that is still true for denominations.
Within three years this denomination was starting or having affiliated with it around 80 congregations per year. Within this short time they were experiencing great success.
A very interesting thing about this denomination is that they were most known for their ecumenical, social justice and advocacy, and compassion ministry work. The key is that they had a balance–even a synergy–of Great Commission and Great Commandment focus.
Another mainline Protestant denomination asked me several years ago to evaluate their work in church planting and church transformation. Eight years earlier they had started on a major journey to turn their denominational movement around through these two efforts. The bottom line is that both efforts were showing signs of success. The denomination had stopped declining, was numerically stabilized, and showed some short-term evidence of growth.
Simultaneously this denomination had a strong heritage of ecumenical, social justice and advocacy, and compassion ministry work similar to the first denomination cited. Their involvement in the World Council of Churches and other similar global ecumenical groups was legendary. As was the case with the first denomination they had a commitment to the synergy of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
It happens I know well the retired CEOs of these denominations who initiated in the early 2000s their church planting and church transformation efforts. In each case if you ask them which they personally enjoy, Great Commission work or Great Commandment work, I believe both would say they enjoy the ecumenical, social justice and advocacy, and compassion ministry work best.
Yet they realized that a synergy of Great Commission and Great Commandment commitments was essential. What is it they saw in a needed synergy? Why is this true?
Is There a Future for Great Commandment Denominations?
Too many denominations are known as either Great Commission or Great Commandment denominations. Too few are known as both. Almost all are engaged in both, but their image is generally of one or the other.
Let’s address denominations primarily committed to Great Commandment ministry involving an ecumenical focus, social justice and advocacy, and compassion ministry work. I really like these issues. It was part of my heritage growing up in the home of a Baptist pastor and denominational leader who was ecumenically engaged, an advocate for social justice and racial equality, and committed to compassion ministry.
Yet his reputation was one of church planting and other significant efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. I inherited his and/both perspective and believe in the synergy of Commission and Commandment. More denominations need to believe in both, and act on the basis of both.
Denominations who decide to only be Great Commandment denominations have decided to decline and to diminish their resources available to do the Great Commandment efforts they claim to believe in so strongly. They have also decided to involve less people and fewer congregations in Great Commandment efforts, as that is the result of decline.
The key learning for mainline and other denominations who focus on the Great Commandment is to do exceptionally well that to which God is calling you, while recognizing that God may also call you to develop new capacities and a plan of sustainability so that you gifts, skills, and preference for Great Commandment work are continually expressed in an excellent and effective manner.
The advice of the two highlighted denominations is to try the synergy of Great Commission and Great Commandment.