Why Denominations Can’t Fulfill the Great Commission

We love our churches, denominations, and the feel that goes with them, so why wouldn’t everybody?

In “Why Denominations Can’t Fulfill the Great Commission,” on the CDM Podcast, David Watson, who spent 50 years as a pastor and missionary in his denomination, joins Rebecca as they unpack the hinderances we can face when we prioritize multiplying our style of church rather than obedience to Christ. In order to reproduce the Gospel and see nonbelievers truly come to know Jesus, we have to let go of our precious denominational boxes when it comes to disciple making.

What Kind of Church Are You Planting, Anyway?


Denomination has always been a hot topic in the Church, as it continues to be today.


The fact of the matter is we love our churches, our denominations and the feel that goes with them and it can be hard for us to understand why anyone wouldn’t. However, the expectation that our church will (or has to) appeal to everyone else on the planet is one of those false assumptions we need to let go of.


Everyone who wants to go to a church is already going, and if people wanted to attend our churches they would already be doing so.


For the last 100 years, the basic, world population of Christians has remained at 33%. Churches have certainly grown over that span of time, but they’ve really only grown because the population has. Meanwhile, that percentage still sits at a stagnant 33%.


In 1997, 77% of people in the United States said they belonged to a particular church, as compared to 44% today. Of course, more people than that go to church, but the stat is focused on how many say they actually belong to a specific congregation, not just attend.


“No matter what denominational stance is comfortable to you, it will only appeal to about 5% of the population at most, and everyone who is interested is already a member.”

If we’re trying to fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples of all nations like Christ commands in Matthew 28, we want to reach much more than just 5%.


That’s why our church planting is about reaching people who don’t (or won’t) go to our churches.


This may cause our pastors, friends and family to ask with craned necks and narrowed eyes, “What kind of church are you planting, anyway?”


So be it. The fruit will speak for itself.


The System Is Broken


In North America today, we are looking at a church multiplication system that is severely flawed.


For starters, the number of seminary graduates cannot keep up with the demand for professional clergymen in existing churches. If we have to have clergy that are trained through a seminary model, then what we’re saying is that church growth is limited to how many graduates come out of seminary.


The problem with that is most of these graduates are replacing retiring ministers, not starting their own congregations. At that point, we’re just replacing leaders, not reproducing or growing churches.


When David Watson moved away from the idea that everything had to be defined by his denominational structure and into the idea that everything should be defined by the Word of God, his disciple making started changing.


It changed so much that David’s bosses began to question whether he was even a part of the denomination anymore and, ultimately, fired him in 1997 because his belief of what missions should be doing wasn’t correct to them.


That was the year he planted 4,000 churches.


Denomination and Selective Obedience

“Whenever we become more attached to our denomination than we do fulfilling the great commission, we cut ourselves off from significant work simply because it doesn’t fit into our particular box.”

The same thing can happen with a theological stance. When we say we take a certain theological stance, we put on shades that filter out a significant portion of the Bible.


Obviously, that is not the intent of theology. No believer would say, “I’m doing this to disobey or ignore God,” but what happens is we start to pick and choose which passages, concepts and commands are significant to us and which ones aren’t.


“Our doctrine is a combination of the Bible and our historical experience as an organization.”

David was raised in a denomination that was totally against the consumption of alcohol. It had been born in the 1700s into an impoverished setting where alcoholism was destroying families and the community, so church leaders drafted a doctrinal statement abolishing alcohol.


This was probably appropriate for the time; however, David’s denomination was still holding fast to this strict, no-alcohol policy 200 years later. Despite the fact that, today, we have a multitude of programs and aids to help people be free from alcoholism, congregants were forbidden from drinking alcohol at all, as well as from working in places that sold it.


Their leaders readily cited scriptures that spoke against drunkenness while ignoring or explaining away passages like John 2 where Jesus turns water into wine, or 1 Timothy 5 where Paul explicitly tells Timothy to take a little wine for his health.


They built a defining doctrine for themselves regarding one particular subject that only accounted for some of what the Bible has to say.


Now, even if we don’t worry as much about alcohol specifically, all of us have doctrines and practices that we are unwilling to compromise on and/or use to criticize others.


Because of this:

  • We fail to take in the whole counsel of the Word of God.

  • When people we are trying to bring to Christ start reading the Bible and point out things that we say that the Bible doesn’t say, or things the Bible says that we ignore, we’ll stifle them by only being able to stick to our particular theological box.


The point of this is not to say our denominations and churches are bad and we shouldn’t have anything to with them.


We can grow up in, serve in and love our churches and denominations, but we should always remember that, once we take a denominational, doctrinal and theological stance, especially if we apply it to disciple making, we are putting ourselves in a box that can impact our ability to bear fruit.


Obedience Based Discipleship


Our core values in making disciples are not (and should not be) based on a theological or denominational set, but on What the Bible says.


That’s why we hold obedience to God to be a core, essential value in DMM. We hold ourselves and those we disciple to obey what we read, but we don’t dictate what an individual’s step of obedience should be.


One key reason we don’t tell people how to obey or try to make converts of our style of church is that every denomination and every doctrinal statement have things they emphasize and things they de-emphasize in the Word of God.


What we have to understand is that, when we go into another culture, the things we de-emphasize may be the very things they need to emphasize.

“The Bible was written for mankind, but not every part of the Bible is going to touch the heart of every person. It’s going to touch different people’s hearts differently.”

We may give disciple making our best shot, but we won’t hit anything if we’re not emphasizing the parts of Scripture that were written specifically to speak to the people we’re discipling.


In the context of the Discovery Bible Study, we let people read God’s Word to see what it says for themselves and then we ask the question: “How will you obey this passage?”


This isn’t us telling them how they should obey it, it’s us asking them what God is saying to them personally and then letting the Holy Spirit move in their hearts to help them obey.


This is why DMM works in every culture — because we aren’t trying to force our culture on anyone.


Disciples Worth Multiplying


As we move the Gospel to places, whether on the other side of the globe or the other side of the street, our job is to know the Word of God in full, obey it and make disciples who do too, not demand some sort of strict (or loose) adherence to our particular doctrinal and denominational stance.


We walk humbly before God and others knowing that we have not arrived. Until the day we die, we will be constantly learning how to obey God better for ourselves and having our opinions and convictions tested to see if they are really in adherence to His Word.


Furthermore, we trust that just as God has promised to complete the good work He began in us (Philippians 1:6), He is faithful to do so for all whom He draws to Himself, regardless of denomination.


When we share and plant the core, essential values first, and we let go of needing to multiply disciples of our denominational boxes, we will see disciples worth multiplying make disciples worth multiplying at a rate that you don’t get by just telling someone what to believe.


Learn More


If you found this blog helpful and would like to hear more from Rebecca and David Watson, be sure to check out the “Why Denominations Can’t Fulfill the Great Commission” podcast here or on the CDM App under podcasts! Thanks for reading!