What is church?

The New Testament uses a number of different pictures of church: church is Christ’s body (Rom 12:5); it is a temple built with living stones (I Pet 2:5), it is a family (Eph 2:19).

Photo credit: Cia de Foto (Creative Commons)

The metaphor of family is very helpful.

Family is neither a building nor an event. Healthy families will get together often, but it’s not the get-togethers that make them family. It’s the relationships. We are family, we don’t do family. Families share life together. Their interaction isn’t limited to Sunday lunch. They love each other, live life together, share one another’s burdens, care for one another, at times they will reprove one another and teach one another.

Sounds like the “one anothers” of the New Testament.

Similarly, church is relationships, but the difference between church and any other set of relationships is the presence of Jesus. As Robert Fitts says in Saturation Church Planting:

When two or three true, born-again believers come together in His name, Jesus is in the midst. Jesus in the midst is church! It is a different experience than Jesus within. We cannot experience Jesus in the midst when we are alone. We can only experience Jesus in the midst when we are in company with others–at least one or two others.

But is it church in the fullest sense of the word? Yes, it is a church in the fullest sense of the word. It is the basic church. You can have more than two or three and it is still a church, but it does not become “more church” because there are more than two or three. It only becomes bigger church.

9 thoughts on “What is church?”

  1. Thanks for this Felicity. I and two guys got together today and in discussing Matt. 28:19-20 we concluded that the two or three of us together is the church — the gathering in his name. I’ve had disagreements even with house/simple church proponents who say that’s not the case. I think if we insist that a “church” has to be something more we are just transplanting the traditional church mindset to someone’s living room. When you think in terms of 2 or 3, “church planting” becomes much more rapid, easier and organic.

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  2. If I could add an interesting comment from our conversation this morning:

    Brian used to host a Bible study group of 17 “unchurched” people in his home. Brian’s a chef and people love his food. They’d sing, read the Bible and talk. The pastor of his traditional church put the kibosh on it, however, because it was outside of his programs and control. So Brian did stop it. Now Brian is meeting in a home church somewhere else and has invited about 8 of those people to the house church. Only two have come (one who accepted Christ, PTL). He says, however, if he would restart his home group, all of those 17 would come back. I told him he needed to restart that home group because people don’t want to go to “church” even if it does meet in a home; they want to come to his home and talk about God and the Bible. So he’s planning on restarting his group.

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      1. That’s one of the principles behind multiplication: move the group into the harvest.  Great idea!

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      2. That’s one of the principles behind multiplication: move the group into the harvest.  Great idea!

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      3.  Exactly. We discussed that too that out of those 17, there has to be someone (at least one or two, I’d wager) who will have friends to invite and want to start a group in their home.

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    1. Dan, that’s a fascinating concept–that people willingly come to a group that doesn’t include the word “church.” We love to start churches with groups of unbelievers, but we don’t call them a church either, at least not until further down the road.. Are you familiar with I Am Second? They start groups all over the place and they are churches, but never called that.

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