I have many unique and incredible experiences of church. I have been to churches meeting in large auditoriums, in school gymnasiums, in homes, and at a golf course. I have been to churches on three continents. I have been in churches that speak various languages. I grew up in a church where everyone felt comfortable speaking Low German. In one church most members were speaking Tagalog until the service began in English. I had the opportunity of preaching in a church in Choma, Zambia, where the pastor interpreted it into one of the local languages, Tonga. I have been in church services that started right on time and ended exactly one hour later. I have been in services where there was an approximate ending time but usually it went much longer. I have been in churches of thirty people and churches of hundreds of people.
I have been in churches where the staff led everything in the service and in churches where most of the service was led by volunteers. I have been in services where it felt like we were watching a performance, and I have been in services where the congregation was invited to participate in a number of ways.
So, what makes it church?
Let’s think of a few things that need to be present for it to be church, and before that, let’s define church. Church is the people of God meeting together. So let’s look at a few things that make something “church”.
- Church is the people of God gathered.
When Paul wrote his different letters, he addressed them to the church in Corinth, or Ephesus, etc. He was addressing people. In Corinthians 1: 2 Paul writes, “I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people.” Church is a gathering of people.
- Church is the encouraging and motivating of God’s people.
Hebrews 10: 24 and 25 says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works…encourage one another….” When the gathered disperse, they should feel encouraged and motivated to continue to grow in their love of God and their service to others. Something needs to happen when gathered so that the people going home are different than when they came in. They should have been challenged to change in some way.
In order for something to be church, the gathered must leave encouraged.
- Church is the people of God praying to God.
In 1 Timothy 2: 8 Paul advises this young pastor, “In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God….” One aspect of a church service, when God’s people gather, should be prayer. Somehow, as part of the time with each other, God’s people need to spend time talking with God.
In order for something to be church, the gathered must pray.
- Church is the people of God gathered to listen to Scripture.
Here is some more advice from Paul to Pastor Timothy: “Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.” God’s Word should be read in church. While everyone should read at home on their own as well, there should be public reading of Scripture. That means, preaching through a popular book does not cut it.
In order for something to be church, the gathered must read Scripture.
- Church is the people of God gathered to be taught.
In the advice to Timothy in the last point, Paul says to “teach them.” Someone, or more than one, needs to expound and apply Scripture to the regular daily lives of God’s people. Someone who has more training or more experience in a passage of Scripture can help others understand it and figure out how the rest of the Bible contributes to what is said in the verses read.
In order for something to be church, the gathered must be taught.
- Church is the people of God gathered to celebrate communion.
In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul reminds the Corinthian church to respect the Lord’s Supper as a special event reminding us of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread…” (1 Corinthians 11: 23) He goes on to describe what happened during that meal Jesus had with his disciples, leaving us an example to follow. Many churches regularly celebrate communion, or whatever your church calls it. Some practice it every Sunday, others monthly.
In order for something to be church, communion will be celebrated regularly.
Is this church?
These are some of the elements that make church “church.” Basically, church is the gathered people of God, but the above elements are usually part of that gathering. Not every item above will be in every gathering of believers, and there may be others included. The point is, do we know what needs to included and what does not? Do we understand the incredible value of regularly meeting with others who are part of God’s family? Please leave a comment sharing what you would add or remove from the list. What do you believe needs to be present to be “church”?
I hope you have found a great local church to regularly gather with. If you have not found one, keep looking. You need to meet with others of God’s people.
Keep looking up,