Seems like a simple question, but one that often leads to sound bytes. Let's review the actual text of the Great Commission:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Mat 28:16-20)
Jesus is addressing the eleven remaining apostles. He didn't even mention local churches, much less denominations or parachurch groups or professional missionaries or pastors. He doesn't charge the disciples with forming local groups, incorporating them, hiring a professional staff and then evangelizing the lost. So I think it is fair to say that the Great Commission is directed as an individual responsibility.
The reason I bring this up is a blog post from Timmy Brister at Provocations and Pantings, Denominations Don’t Fulfill the Great Commission – The Christian Index Confesses. Timmy was making the point that an awful lot of money in the Southern Baptist Convention goes into the Cooperative Program, which makes little sense since denominations are neither charged nor capable of carrying out the Great Commission (nor are denominations Biblical for that matter). From his post:
So here’s the $64,000 question? Why are our Great Commission dollars (i.e., the Cooperative Program) stuck in a system that is inherently incapable of fulfilling the Great Commission? If state conventions cannot do it, why are they hoarding on average more than 60% of our money while IMB missionaries are being held back because of lack of funding? In the year 2008, over $329,000,000 was kept in state conventions from Cooperative Program money. Just think of that. All of it sunk into a denominational bureaucracy boldly admitting its inability to do what those dollars are being sent to do.
OK, I am with him on that. It is a sin that so much money is buried in administration and bureaucracy, money intended by the donors to go to mission work, when there are missionaries ready to go out who cannot because of a lack of money. My concern comes from Timmy's closing statement:
Denominations don’t fulfill the Great Commission, churches do.
That is a pretty common belief. But is that true and is that Biblical? I think that is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, we don't see that idea in the Great Commission and I don't think we see an example or command in the New Testament to form churches for the purpose of evangelism. The local assembly is focused on Christians in fellowship and disciplining, lifting up one another in prayer. Second is the concern that many individual Christians don't see evangelism as their responsibility, an attitude that is encouraged by some in ministry. Evangelism means inviting someone to church so that a paid professional can preach the Gospel to them in a 40 minute sermon (for more on this idea see a prior post Stand Back, We're Professionals).
The local church is the result of evangelism, not the primary driver of evangelism.
Denominations don't carry out the Great Commission. Nor do local churches. The Great Commission is fulfilled by individual Christians. Organizations can help (although they more often hinder) but ultimately the Great Commission is fulfilled by individual Christians proclaiming Christ. If we truly believe God is sovereign and that the work of regeneration is a monergistic work of the Holy Spirit, we should not be afraid of having just regular Christians witnessing to the lost.