From the very beginning, the passion of Great Commission Churches has been to bring the life-changing message of Jesus Christ to the world. An example of how one of our early leaders was challenged with this vision is told in the following story. In 1969, Herschel Martindale, a Plymouth Brethren pastor, in Houston, Texas, went to a conference hosted by Campus Crusade for Christ, where he heard Bill Bright speaking on reaching the world for Christ in this generation. This experience so stirred Herschel that he decided to dedicate his life to fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. (Click on to the video below to hear Herschel tell his story.)
This kind of passion to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ through local churches has characterized our movement from the early days until now.
The Movement's Early Formation
Jesus Christ, the Lord of His church, has been building His church throughout the world for the last two thousand years. He is also the One who has built the Great Commission church movement. No one man or group of men can take credit for what has happened in Great Commission Churches. Jesus Christ alone gets the glory.
In the formative years, leaders in Great Commission churches were inspired by two other movements: Campus Crusade for Christ, with its emphasis on the Great Commission, and the Plymouth Brethren, with their emphasis on the New Testament church. Thus the vision of our movement: Great Commission Churches, New Testament Christianity in Action Today
The Great Commission Church Movement in the 1970's: Every Member a Minister
In the summer of 1970, a group of college-age young people got on an old school bus and shared the gospel of Jesus Christ on five college campuses throughout the southwestern U.S. Through their efforts, many people received the gift of eternal life and several fellowships were formed over the next few years.
These young people had a passion for God, a committment to His Word, and a zeal to share Christ wherever they went. From the beginning, they believed, practiced, and taught the biblical truth that "every member is a minister." They believed that since all believers are priests, a person need not be a clergyman to baptize or serve the Lord's Supper. The campus fellowships that were started considered themselves churches, baptized new believers, and observed communion. Their structure was very simple, usually meeting in homes or in campus buildings.
In the 1970s, the movement had no national organization, no national structure, and no central leader. Jesus Christ was exalted as the Leader of His church and of the movement. There was no doctrinal statement or agreed upon articles of association; the Bible alone was the guide. Yet, there was a unity based upon four factors: a common love for Christ and the Scriptures; a zeal to fulfill the Great Commission through the New Testament Church; a devotion to a covenant love and unity that went beyond the local church; and a committment to meet together nationally and regionally as pastors and as churches at conferences. The present-day summertime GCC Pastors Conference, and the Christmastime Faithwalkers conference are both designed to capture the spirit of those early conferences, and to continue imparting the vision, mission, and values of the movement.
The movement's early leaders believed that the church, modeled after the pattern in the New Testament, was to be the primary vehicle for fulfilling the Great Commission. They emphasized the church should be governed by a plurality of elders, also called "overseers" and "pastors" (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1). Elders were trained within the church and were appointed based upon the character qualities described in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
Some of the pastors/elders in the early years were Herschel Martindale, an effective Bible teacher, Jim McCotter, a visionary leader and fruitful evangelist, and Dennis Clark, a gifted musician and former staff member with Campus Crusade. (Jim was the primary catalyst in the beginning years and he had the highest profile nationally from 1970 until he left Great Commission in 1986 to pursue business ventures. For an explanation of GCC's historical relationship with Jim McCotter, click here.)
The three men presently on the GCC Executive Committee - John Hopler (Director), Rick Whitney (Assistant Director), and Dave Bovenmyer (Secretary) - came to Christ in the 1970s through the ministry of churches in the movement. In the mid-1970s, Mark Darling and Tom Short (who presently play a prominent role at Faithwalkers conferences) were Christians who joined churches in the movement because they were attracted by the radical devotion to Christ that they saw in people.
The Development of Great Commission Churches
In 1983, leaders from various fellowships around the country moved to the Washington D.C. area to seek the Lord as to how He might want the movement to organize nationally. These men recognized that during New Testament times, as well as throughout all of church history, God has raised up men to minister regionally, nationally, and internationally by starting churches and providing continued guidance and support to those churches. As a result, Great Commission International (GCI) was formed in 1983. In 1989, the name of the GCI organization was changed to Great Commission Association of Churches. Today, the shortened name, Great Commission Churches, is used in public communications.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the movement experienced another period of growth. The majority of the new churches were planted in U.S. communities, rather than college campuses. The community churches were started mostly with college graduates in cities that were near campus locations.
Also during this time, a significant change was made by GCC leaders in their approach to leadership. Although they had always promoted the importance of humility and leaders being servants, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, GCC leaders put a greater emphasis on servant leadership, personal and organizational accountability, unity with the body of Christ, and responding humbly to criticisms. During this time GCC pastors pursued reconciliation with former members through Project Care and wrote the Errors and Weaknesses paper in 1991, in which wrong practices and imbalanced teachings from the past were acknowledged. This chapter in Great Commission Churches' history is another example that shows that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is far greater than the sins, failures, and weaknesses of men.
In the early 1990s, Great Commission pastors developed the Articles of Association, which were formally approved in 1994. According to the Articles, local churches have final authority over their affairs under the Lord Jesus Christ, and are voluntary members of the association. Although each church is autonomously governed, it is united with the other churches in the association and with national and regional ministries for fellowship, accountability, and mission (U.S. and international church planting). For information about the accountability process for churches in Great Commission Churches, click here.
In the 1990s, a formal process was established for the appointment of pastors (elders) in churches in the association. In 1999, the Great Commission Leadership Institute was formed as a ministry to support the training of pastors within the local church.
In 2002, Great Commission Association of Churches was accepted into the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
In 2003, the first Faithwalkers conference was held. The purpose of Faithwalkers is to teach the vision and core values of the Great Commission church movement, primarily to young people.
In 2006, Great Commission Churches officially adopted the Core Values Statement, which explains the beliefs and practices of churches in the association.
In 2007, Great Commission Churches joined the National Association of Evangelicals.
Each Great Commission church has an "Acts 1:8 Plan," designed to proclaim the gospel in its city, state, nation, and the world.
GCC churches partner with fellow ministries and churches that are part of the Great Commission church movement around the world. The Great Commission Association was formed as a ministry of Great Commission Churches to encourage and support international churches and ministries that share the Great Commission Church vision and values. Outside of the United States, there are Great Commission churches in Asia, Europe and Latin America.
The Asia ministry was started in 1987, primarily through sending teams of international students from U.S. colleges back to their home countries. Today, there are churches in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, India, and Philippines. Doug Brown, Mike Bergen, Tom Short and others provide leadership for GCC's ministry to Asia.
The European ministry, founded by Herschel Martindale, began in 1991 with an outreach to Dortmund, Germany, led by Dan Goering. Today, there are Great Commission churches in Germany, Ukraine, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland, as well as ministries in other European countries. Joe Dunn, Dan Goering, and Timmy Powers provide leadership for the ministry in Europe. Presently, Great Commission Churches has a special partnership Great Commission Europe to mobilize missionaries to plant churches in new countries in Europe.
The Latin American ministry began in 1976. Today, Great Commission Latin America (GCLA), led by Nelson Guerra and a team of others, is based in Miami, Florida. Great Commission churches have been planted in countries throughout Latin America, including Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Mexico. In addition to GCLA, Great Commission churches in the U.S. are also doing ministry in the Dominican Republic.
In addition, Jim Wiebelhaus leads the GCC ministry focusing on reaching international students who live in the United States. Finally, GCC churches mobilize hundreds of people for short-term mission trips, all with the hope of establishing new churches or strengthening existing churches.
Presently, GCC churches are affiliated with churches in 27 countries throughout the world.
If you have any questions about the history of Great Commission Churches or individuals affiliated with GCC, please do not hesitate to contact our office at .