If you listen to a pastor at a GCM/GCAC church speak of their church history, you'll rarely be told more than the following information:

An excerpt from gcachurches.org:
In the 1970’s, the Association was a loose fellowship of campus churches. In the 1980’s, Great Commission International (GCI) was started as a formal organization providing direction for church planting and accountability to the churches. Also during the 1980’s, churches were started in U.S. communities as well as overseas. In 1989, GCI became Great Commission Association of Churches (GCAC). . . in 1989, Great Commission Ministries (GCM) was formed to help mobilize missionary workers for campus and international ministry.

To current GCM church members this should sound familiar. Sometimes personal tales of early church life will be told during sermons, painting a picture of a ragtag team of Christians banding together in the 70's to form what became GCAC. However, there is a startling amount of information left out of such history lessons, information we believe all GCM members or those considering joining have a right to know.

(Note: When reading this site please keep in mind that GCI, GCM, and GCAC are used interchangeably to describe the same organization, as it goes or has gone by these names.)

For instance, GCM/GCAC/GCI has been called on out various issues in the past, and has had to apologize to the public for these issues. Throughout the 70's, 80's, and 90's, Great Commission appeared in dozens of newspaper articles, many of which accused the group of being highly "authoritarian" and "abusive." Newspapers also recounted stories of mental breakdowns attributed to the practices of the movement during this time period. [App. A] Several research organizations, including the American Family Association and the Council on Mind Abuse, classified the movement as a "cult" during this time period. [A9]

In 1992, Group Publishing's Group Magazine (the most widely read youth ministry resource in the world) published an article titled "How to Spot an Abusive Church" [1] in which Great Commission was mentioned as the first example. Around the same time this article was published, GCAC issued the following statement confirming these (and other) alarming practices. Excerpts from the 13-page statement:

"we acknowledge that there were instances where some of us in our immaturity tended to lead more by coercion and compulsion than by inspiration and example . . . At times, we were overly directive in the personal affairs of church members . . . we did not always distinguish between a command and a principle and so may have treated a scriptural principle as a command. The consequence was that a person who had received counsel in some area might feel compelled to act in what he believed was obedience to a scriptural command when, in fact, the area was one where he was free to choose how a scriptural principle applied.

". . . An individual who had a conviction contrary to that of the pastors was sometimes considered rebellious, even though that conviction was one permitted by the Word.

". . . We confess that we have too often responded defensively to those both within and outside of our churches who questioned or criticized us, and at times exhibited an unwillingness to listen to their perspective. Instead of too quickly concluding that these individuals were acting divisively or irresponsibly, we should have made a greater effort to care­fully consider and respond to their views

". . . a tendency to believe that our approach to the Christian life was not merely a "good" one, but the "best" or "only scriptural" approach. . . . We confess that, especially in our early years, we had a prideful attitude about the ways we believed that our churches were distinctive from others in the body of Christ. And while, to the best of our knowledge, it was never expressly taught that we were better than other churches, it was very much implied

". . . Our zeal for evangelism . . . resulted in a lack of emphasis on the value of a college education. . . In most cases, this lack of emphasis on education resulted in a failure by church leaders to stress to students the importance of committing their time and effort to excelling in their studies, and the resulting belief that involvement with church activities was more important than schoolwork. In some cases, students at some of our churches were encouraged to leave school so they would be more free to 'serve the Lord.'

". . . We realize that a number of individuals made poor decisions concerning their education and careers partially because of our encouragement or because of the examples they saw in our churches. To these people, we offer our sincere apology and regret that our mistakes contributed to career decisions that caused problems, financial or otherwise."

(Note: Though this statement admitted many problems and proposed many solutions, the sincerity and circulation of the statement has been questioned. Dr. Paul Martin wrote that, "the circulation of [the statement] has been questioned by many ex-members," [2] and Larry Pile wrote in 2006 that "Great Commission did prepare a 'A Statement Recognizing Early Errors and Weaknesses in the Development of the Great Commission Association of Churches.' However, the Statement was not widely distributed within the churches, but apparently was given only to long-time members of four or five years or more." [3])

More information on this 13-page statement will be discussed on forthcoming pages, and the complete statement is available in the Resources section.

In the 90's, around the time the church error statement was made, the organization began to appear in numerous books on abusive churches, including Cult-Proofing Your Kids [2], Recovery From Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse [4], and Churches that Abuse [5]. The movement's practices have also been discussed in research papers, including a University of Virginia Master's Thesis [6] whose research included interviews with 274 ex-members, and a Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Master's Thesis on aberrant Christian churches [7].

In the mid 80's, several ex-leaders staged a conference "to help other ex-members to recover from the emotional and psychological damage they'd experienced" in Great Commission churches [8]. Some of these former leaders went on to form the world's first and only accredited cult recovery center, Wellspring Retreat. One of them explained his experience with the early Great Commission movement:
"Finally, I learned to my sorrow that even otherwise orthodox Christian groups and churches can acquire cult-like aspects and tendencies, such as a demand for near total submission to the leadership, unquestioning acceptance of certain non-scriptural teachings and practices, spiritual legalism, and an individuality-numbing uniformity of thought and life. This was forcefully brought home to me when I observed these and similar characteristics close at hand in my own church, part of the movement that later became known as Great Commission International." - Larry Pile [9]

In 1989, officials of the University of Guelph banned the movement from campus following a three-month investigation of the group's activities. [A1] This was the first organization banned from that campus in its 25-year history. [10]

These are very serious problems, and yet Great Commission seems to think that a single, and now near impossible to find apology it issued in 1991 was enough to alleviate anyone's concerns. If they have truly corrected these behaviors, then they have nothing to hide and should be honest about the mistakes the movement made. However, they have instead elected to take the opposite approach in the recounting of their history in sermons, conferences and membership classes: pretend that nothing ever happened.

Members shown the information above are quite often shocked, though in many cases not completely surprised that GCM would be called out on such issues. How has a group with such a history of abuse managed to so effectively conceal this information? Why are new members, who take a multi-week class and are asked to sign a commitment covenant, not at least made aware of the statement and problematic past of the movement? We believe people have a right to know this information if they are to make an informed choice about making a Great Commission church their spiritual home, even if the movement believes the abuses have been properly addressed. Unfortunately, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that GCM in its current form is still very much the same organization it apologized for being in the 1991 statement. This will be discussed next.


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Sources:

1. Enroth, Ronald. "How to Spot an Abusive Church." Group Magazine Mar. 1992. (copy of article)
2. Martin, Ph.D, Paul R. Cult-Proofing Your Kids. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan House, 1993.
      ISBN: 0310537614 
3. Pile, Lawrence A. "Statement About Great Commission Association of Churches/
    Great Commission Ministries." 11 Mar. 2006.
4. Langone, Michael D. Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of
    Psychological and
Spiritual Abuse. N.p.: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995.
    ISBN: 0393313212
5. Enroth, Ronald. Churches That Abuse. N.p.: Zondervan, 1992.
    ISBN: 0310532906
6. MacDonald, Jerry. "Reject the Wicked Man: Coercive
    Persuasion and Deviance Production: A Study of Conflict
    Management," Cultic Studies Journal, 1988. (link)
7. Butz, Martin. "An inquiry into the paradox of aberrant Christian
    churches: orthodoxy without orthopraxy," Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
, 1991.
8. Ross, Rick. "Just Who Is Jim McCotter?" North & South Apr. 2002.
9. Pile, Larry. "The Making of a Cult Counselor." Wellspring Journal Vol. 9 Issue 2 (Summer 2000).
10. Zilliox, Jr., Larry, and Larry Kahaner. Factual Analysis of the Operations and Activities of
    Great Commission Inc. and James Douglas McCotter. KANE Associates International, Inc., 1990.

Appendix A:

Though not an exhaustive collection, below is a list of some of the newspaper articles Great Commission has appeared in. A more exhaustive collection can be obtained by request:

A1. "Bible club evicted from U of Guelph campus: Group accused of authoritarianism,
    cult-like control over members," Toronto Globe and Mail, 27 Sep. 1989.
A2. "Iowan tells cult experience," Dei Moines (Iowa) Register, 12 Jan. 1985.
A3. "Silver Spring Fundamentalists: Church or 'Cult'?" Silver Spring (Md.) Montomery County
       Sentinel, Feb. 1985.
A4. "Ex-members say religious group controls, intimidates its followers," Columbus (Ohio)
    Lantern, 11 Oct. 1982.
A5. "Jean's story: Why she joined GCI, how she got deprogrammed," Silver Spring (Md.)
    Montgomery County Sentinel, 6 Feb. 1986.
A6. "New Life policies scrutinized," Towson (Md.) Towerlight, 9 May 1985.
A7. "'I think I was brainwashed': Religious group criticized as cult-like is now at KSU."
    Manhattan (Kan.) Daily Kent Stater, 3 Dec. 1982.
A8. "ISU Bible Study group: 'Wonderful' or 'a cult'?" Des Moines (Iowa) Register, 13 Mar. 1980.
A9. "Divine Deception" The Touchstone, April 1992.