I commonly tell my church that we just want people to be spiritually fed—they don’t necessarily need to eat at our restaurant. There are a number of good places they can go in our city. We simply want the level of spiritual hunger on our planet to be reduced.
A Great Commission church, therefore, looks around to see if there are other churches in its area that can be helped. Maybe other churches have fallen on hard times. Maybe they have even begun to distort the gospel in their teaching or practice. That unhealthy church may well have a bad reputation in its community, giving a black eye to Christianity. Whatever the case, we should want to see them reclaimed for Christ. A Great Commission church will want to assist a church in their difficulties or help them recover a good reputation. It doesn’t just plant a new church right next to a faltering one. It tries to fix what a previous generation of careless Christians left broken.
Or maybe there is a neighborhood in your city or in a far-out suburb with no gospel-preaching church. It might need a brand new plant. What can your church do to help?
Encourage Gospel Growth Locally
A Great Commission church encourages gospel growth locally.
I am so thankful for what God has done in my own city of Washington over the past two decades. When I arrived just over twenty years ago, there were not many healthy, gospel-preaching churches on Capitol Hill that I would have recommended to someone. Today there are half a dozen just on the Hill I could recommend, and even more throughout the District of Columbia. We list these “sister churches” on our website and on printed cards that hang by our church building doors. If someone doesn’t like our church, or the drive is too far, hopefully they will try one of these other congregations.
“A Great Commission church encourages gospel growth locally.”
Yes, we have differences on some things, but we preach the same gospel. We are delighted that God, in his grace and kindness, has been pouring out his favor on the Hill and on the District. We are in a rich time for the gospel. Is there more to be done? Yes, but thank God for what he has been doing.
God is going to win. Even if your church or mine closes its doors, you never need to be in doubt about that. Paul wrote, “God’s Word is not chained” (2 Tim. 2:9 NIV). Keep in mind that Paul had been in prison when he said that. Maybe some of his friends were concerned about the gospel’s advance. Paul replied, “Not to worry. God’s Word is not chained. It runs freely. It runs freely even through prisons.”
We need to stop being so turfy about our own churches and look for ways to promote the gospel’s advance throughout our cities, including in other churches.
Planting and Revitalizing
A primary way we have sought to promote gospel growth in our area is through revitalizing dying churches and planting new ones.
Revitalizations can be tough. There is a reason that church has been in decline, and chances are that a couple of those reasons are current members. It takes a particular kind of man to go in and lead a dying church toward health, and the church needs to be in a place where they are ready to receive help.
More than once, such churches have found themselves facing the choice to either surrender their building deed and keys to a denominational entity or another church who wants to make them a site, or take this offer from us: “We’ll give you a number of members, a pastor, two years’ worth of salary for the pastor, and you can keep your name and building. We ask for nothing in return. It’s all yours.” Little do they know that we have been training that pastor to focus hard on the gospel, to preach expositionally, and to love them toward health. Call it a covert op.
Sometimes we have sent men and members to churches in the outskirts of our metropolitan area so people coming from that distance won’t have to drive so far. Sometimes dying churches have become available closer to home. We try to make the most of any opportunity we have for the sake of the gospel.
At the same time, we want to plant new churches in our area. Recently, we sent fifty members and three of our elders just down the road to one of DC’s poorer neighborhoods to plant a church. The lead elder preached in our pulpit half a dozen times in the six months leading up to the plant. That way, people in our church learned to trust how he handles the Word and be impelled to follow him. As of this moment, they are meeting in a school and still looking for a more permanent location. And we will do everything we can to help. My guess is that we will send them quite a few more members in the coming years.
The goal in all of this, whether revitalizing or planting, is to see multiple independent witnesses spread throughout the Washington, DC, area, closer to where people live. We want Christians to be able to integrate their personal lives and church more easily.
The Bible teaches that the entire membership finally has responsibility for the gospel ministry of a church. That means you will play some role in helping your church catch the vision for encouraging gospel growth locally.
One very practical issue is how you should think through whether to stay in your present church, go with a local plant or revitalizing project, or even move overseas. Many Christians make their decisions about whether to move in terms of what is good for their education, job, or family situation. They even make decisions based on the weather, the commute, the lifestyle, their hobbies, and pleasures.
“Commit your whole life—whatever you have left—to fulfilling the call to make disciples, teaching them to obey everything he has commanded.”
If that’s you, I want to challenge you to submit your life decisions to Jesus’s Great Commission. Commit your whole life—whatever you have left—to fulfilling the call to make disciples, teaching them to obey everything he has commanded. When you come to make these kinds of major life decisions, if you are able, settle on a church first, and then sort out other matters of job, house, schools.
Are you a high school senior trying to figure out where to go to college? Make a list of half a dozen great churches in the country. Then ask yourself what colleges are in those cities.
Are you a businessman? Does your company have offices overseas? Are you aware of churches or mission work that could use your help in any of the cities where your company has offices? Might you suggest a transfer?
Are you a retiree? How and where will you spend these years?
A Great Commission mindset will change the way you think about life’s big decisions.
Mark Dever is pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. This is an adapted excerpt from his book Understanding the Great Commission and is republished here with permission.