February 4, 2019
By Steve King
I recently conducted a survey over a period of several weeks in which I asked people to define what a church is. I asked missionaries, ministry leaders, church members, pastors, neighbors, business leaders, and unbelievers. Answers ranged from blank stares, or a list of certain aspects of what churches do, to statements that are found nowhere in the Bible. No one gave me a clear definition of what a church is.
“Church” is a hot issue today among young, entrepreneurial pastors and there are countless innovative church plants across the nation. Many books regarding how to function effectively as a church have been published and I have read dozens of them and benefited from their insights. The irony is that almost none of the books define what a church is—the definition is assumed. Most of the books share effective practices gleaned from other “successful” churches. But without a clear, biblically-based definition of what a church is, how do you determine if it is successful or not? It is dangerous to build churches on an assumed definition!
According to the Bible, a church is not a building, denomination, Bible study, small group, online community, outreach team, preaching center, worship gathering, activity center, social service agency, seminary, or a missions agency. A church may be engaged in many of these activities and gather in one place, but none of them alone defines a church.
Let’s turn our back on assuming what a church is. Let’s refuse to settle for vague concepts about it.
Fortunately, God has not left us in the dark. He has clearly revealed in the New Testament the essential definition of Christ’s church, both locally and globally. The following definition is a summary statement of what the New Testament reveals about what a healthy church is. Read it several times and meditate on it. This is what God calls us to be!
A local church consists of baptized believers in Jesus Christ, connected to the global body of Christ, who habitually gather under the leadership of qualified shepherds, to worship the Triune God, study and apply the Scriptures, practice baptism and communion, and obey the Great Command and the Great Commission for the glory of God.