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Why Denominational Missions Are Dead



With the decline of Evangelical denominations in America (Every mainline denomination has been in decline for decades), we must consider the global implications of these cultural and theological shifts.


The most important question that we must ask relates to the Great Commission.

Jesus never commanded the church to separate into factions or spend billions of dollars on elaborate buildings. Paul never suggested changing the world through political activism or influence. But the one command that we have received with complete clarity is the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of every nation…” (Matthew 28:19, HCSB).


You could argue that the strategies mentioned above have had their purpose. For a time, the foothold that Evangelicism had in America was a force for good in the world of missions.

The Southern Baptist Convention sent and funded massive missions efforts worldwide along with multiple other denominations. Still, those results are increasingly difficult to replicate in the current global context.

Here are four reasons denominational missions are dead.

1. The administration and bureaucracy have grown too big and costly.

The missional endeavors of the first 300 years of Christian history were efficient and streamlined. Local churches sent missionaries out, and they supported their traveling needs.

However, most apostolic workers were also leaving home with a “tent-making skill,” a way to provide for their daily needs without outside help (more on that later). The task was not overly complicated:

  1. Share the gospel.

  2. Disciple.

  3. Gather them in churches.

  4. Teach the church to thrive alone.

The simplicity of the mission allowed the missionaries and their ministries to thrive.

But today, missionaries within denominational missions agencies are overwhelmed with everchanging policies, convoluted strategies, and shady politics both on the field and in the home office. It’s no wonder we are less productive than our spiritual forbearers.


2. Denominational polarization

With the entry of politics into the American church landscape, things have gotten very tricky. Everyone is walking on eggshells trying not to offend someone.


Or else, they are intentionally polarizing to draw fanatics into their church pews. Politics from the pulpit is a theological atrocity I may have to address in another post, but for this article, I can say that this polarization has taken the focus off of the true task given to us by Christ himself.


The early church also lived in a time of political unrest. The Roman Empire hated Christians and ruled with a heavy hand. Their response should guide our thinking on this issue. The apostles did not try to curry favor with the government or make political alliances. That would have been foolish and futile. They simply preached the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit and allowed the chips to fall where they may.


The church grew because of these singularly minded saints who refused to be distracted by politics of any sort. They were citizens of heaven, just recruiting for the kingdom to come.


3. The world today is less friendly to religious influence

Fifty years ago, most countries would welcome a missionary presence, but the world landscape has changed drastically since then. Countries that once welcomed thousands of missionaries per year now refuse visas to traditional missionary workers.


The hostility of the nations towards the gospel is only increasing. Unfortunately, it is for the wrong reasons. Jesus warned His disciples that the world would hate them because of Him (Jesus). But the world dislikes Christian missionaries today for other reasons.


Many denominations are exporting destructive ideologies into foreign countries. Many countries have grown weary of Christian interference, from prosperity gospel preachers exploiting the poor to activists disguised as missionaries trying to disrupt political structures.


These attitudes have grown after decades of abuse. We will likely never return to the good old days where missionaries were welcome in almost every country. So we must change our tactics and avoid unnecessary conflict with host nations by adding real value through our presence, rather than chasing our own agenda.


4. The rise of better models

Denominational missions were once the only option, but today there are many options to choose from. The first two that come to mind are Business as Mission (BAM) and National Partnerships.


BAM is, in my opinion, the future of missions. The idea is that the missionary goes into the country as a business person with a viable skill that serves society and the economy.

They support themselves (at least partially) through that business instead of relying solely on donations from home. They integrate themselves into the community and have a viable gospel witness with customers, other business people, and their employees. Living out a Christian lifestyle and biblical practices in business is sure to gain attention and give opportunities for evangelism, discipleship, and even church planting.


National Partnerships is another methodology that shows promise for the future. The idea is that a mission team is not primarily foreign but integrated with national Christians. The foreign missionaries share resources that are not readily available or cost-prohibitive in the host country.

For example, the national missionaries may not have access to missiological or theological training, so the foreign missionary disciples and trains them as part of his ministry.


National missionaries are then empowered to go out and practice what they have learned. In time, the national missionaries will become the trainers of the next generation, and the foreign missionary is no longer necessary.


The days of denominational missions are coming to an end. We can not hide our heads in the sand and ignore the inevitable. There are better, more effective models available today. These models are more sustainable and produce longer-lasting fruit. We would do well to adopt them into our future strategies.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? Leave a comment below.

For three more alternatives to denominational missions, check out this post:

Three Alternatives to Denominational Mission Organizations.

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