What is the Mission of the Church? - Radical

What is the Mission of the Church?

Following his death and resurrection, Jesus gave his disciples some final instructions about their mission. We read these instructions, often referred to as the Great Commission, in the Gospels and the book of Acts.1 Matthew’s Gospel provides a good summary:

The heart of the Great Commission is found in the command to “make disciples.

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. (Matthew 28:19–20)

The heart of the Great Commission is found in the command to “make disciples.”2 This command, however, was not only given to the original disciples. 

Jesus’ disciples, also called apostles, helped form the “foundation” of the church (Ephesians 2:20), so the mission given to them also comes through them and applies to the church today. The Great Commission is the church’s mission.3 Therefore, we need to understand what it means to “make disciples.”4

What Does it Mean to Make Disciples?

Consider three aspects of making disciples: proclaiming, baptizing, and teaching.

Proclaiming

To become a disciple of Jesus, a person must hear the gospel and, by God’s grace, respond in repentance and faith (Romans 10:14–17; Mark 1:15). Therefore, making disciples begins with the proclamation: we must tell others the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Baptizing

Making disciples also involves “baptizing” those who put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19). Baptism marks someone as belonging to Jesus and his church. It is not an optional practice for isolated individuals or groups; it is a Christ-ordained ordinance to be administered in the context of a local church. 

Teaching

Finally, making disciples involves “teaching them to observe all that I [Jesus] have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). New disciples need to grow in their understanding of the Word of God and their obedience to Christ. This requires ongoing instruction and regular gathering with the church (Hebrews 10:24–25). 

The New Testament helps us see what it looks like for the church to make disciples among all nations.

What Did the Church’s Mission Look Like in the New Testament?

The outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost immediately led to the proclamation of the gospel message, and those who responded in repentance and faith were baptized (Acts 2:1–41). These new believers then gathered with other believers to grow in their faith (Acts 2:42–47). As the word continued to be proclaimed, people were added to the church (Acts 4:4).

Acts also tells us of the church’s early missionary efforts. The Apostle Paul and his co-workers were sent out to proclaim the gospel from city to city, and they established and strengthened churches along the way (Acts 14:23; 16:5). One way Paul and the other apostles strengthened churches was through the letters of the New Testament. These Spirit-inspired letters were written to instruct, encourage, warn, and correct disciples of Jesus spread across the known world. 

What is the Scope of the Church’s Mission?

A church’s disciple-making efforts should naturally begin in its community, but its mission doesn’t stop there. Jesus commanded us to make disciples of “all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

When Jesus refers to “nations,” he’s not talking about geopolitical nations, or countries, as we often think of them today. He’s likely talking about what we refer to today as people groups. It is estimated that there are over 17,000 people groups in the world today, and the church should seek to make disciples among all of them. Sadly, over 7,000 of these people groups are currently identified as unreached, which means they have little or no access to the gospel. 

A church’s disciple-making efforts should naturally begin in its community, but its mission doesn’t stop there.

Since no one can be saved apart from faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:14–17), the church’s mission involves sending missionaries to proclaim the gospel among the unreached. By God’s grace, we want to see biblically healthy churches planted so that new believers can be established in their faith. These newly planted churches can then play their part in the church’s mission by continuing to make disciples. 

We read about the culmination of the church’s mission in the book of Revelation, as one day people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” will be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 5:9–10). The promise originally made to Abraham will be fulfilled as God’s blessing reaches “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3) through Jesus Christ.

What are Some Practical Ways to Participate in the Church’s Mission?

While no single church or group of churches can make disciples among all the people and places of the world, every local church has a part to play. Here are three practical ways churches can carry out their mission among the nations:

  1. Pray for the spread of the gospel, asking the Lord to raise up more laborers—from your church and from other churches—to be sent out into the world. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest” (Matthew 9:37–38). 
  2. Give financially for the sake of disciple-making efforts in places where there is little or no gospel access. God blesses his people so that his saving power might be known among all nations (Psalm 67:2).
  3. Send out missionaries to people and places that do not have a gospel witness. Even if your church doesn’t have someone ready to be sent out, you can partner with and support other like-minded churches who do.

The church’s mission is guaranteed to succeed, but our confidence is not our abilities or resources. Our confidence is in Christ, the Son of God, who has promised that not even the gates of hell would stop him from building his church (Matthew 16:18). 


  1. See Matthew 28:18–20; Luke 24:44–49; John 20:21–23; Acts 1:8.
  2. For a good discussion of the church’s mission, see Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission.
  3. One of the many reasons we know the Great Commission applies beyond the lives of the original disciples is that, when Jesus gave them his instructions, he promised to be with them to “the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), a time that has not yet arrived. On this point, see John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 173.
  4. Making disciples is at the heart of the church’s mission, but that doesn’t mean the church should ignore physical needs in its own community and across the world—providing relief for the poor, caring for widows and orphans, speaking up on behalf of the unborn, fighting human trafficking, etc. Jesus himself taught us to love our neighbors in sacrificial ways. (Luke 10:25–37). However, meeting physical needs should not be a substitute for proclaiming the gospel. Rather, our good works should point people to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

David Burnette serves as the Senior Editor for Radical. He lives with his wife and three kids in Birmingham, Alabama, and he serves as an elder at Philadelphia Baptist Church. He received his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

LESS THAN 1% OF ALL MONEY GIVEN TO MISSIONS GOES TO UNREACHED PEOPLE AND PLACES.

That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Together we can change that!