What is “The Church?”


It’s a phrase you hear a lot when the faith community or religion are discussed: “The Church.” It’s also referred to as “church with a big C.” For some, it’s a reference to the Catholic Church. To others, it is shorthand for all Christ-based institutions of worship. Dictionary.com defines “church” this way:

Noun: a building for public Christian worship. public worship of God or a religious service in such a building: to attend church regularly.

verb (used with object): to conduct or bring to church, especially for special services.

South Midland and Southern U.S. to subject to church discipline.

Those are all correct. But are any of them what should come to mind when Christ-followers think of “The Church.” I found this definition recently, and I think it’s about as close to perfect a perfect fit with my definition of church that I’m going to find:

“To connect the unconnected to Christ, and together grow to full devotion to Him.”

Above that sentence were the words “The Church,” pointing to a stick man. It’s all about connection to Christ, and everyone in the church is not just a part of the church but IS the church. The Church isn’t merely an organization; it’s also a living organism. And living organisms exist in one of two states: growing or dying. Once you reach full maturity, the growing process ends, and the dying process begins. The hope for many is that the dying process will take 8 or 9 decades. But your body begins the dying process the moment the growing process ends. Churches are no different.

The problem is that church growth is almost always defined as an increasing number of people in chairs or pews. It’s an earthly measure of church growth (and success) that I humbly suggest is not part of God’s economy.

A church that is growing closer to Christ, growing in the Spirit and has body parts (people) that are growing closer to each other is a thriving, growing church. It’s very likely it will grow in attendance as well. Does a church live for any purpose other than this:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… Philippians 3:10 (NIV)

Oswald Chambers in the devotional “My Utmost for His Highest” put it this way:

Reconciliation means the restoring of the relationship between the entire human race and God, putting it back to what God designed it to be. This is what Jesus Christ did in redemption. The church ceases to be spiritual when it becomes self-seeking, only interested in the development of its own organization.

Chambers wrote that over 100 years ago. Yet it seems as though it could have been written yesterday. Today he might say: “it’s not about skinny jeans and smoke machines.” Or “it’s not about a retail entertainment experience.” This is not to be critical of churches who employ these things.  But churches should ask themselves, are the things they’re doing designed to spur this kind of growth:

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:18 (NIV)

If we make the church about what the church is really about, living organism and not an organization, we will see both personal and church organism growth in a way beyond our wildest imaginations.

Pastor Jerry Bader

1 Comment
  • ryan w mantey
    Posted at 20:29h, 25 July Reply

    Amen Jerry.
    the big C for me is connectivity. the more we connect, the more we share. the more we share, is where my growth comes from. whether it’s a small group or a mega establishment, work, customers, a passerby, if I can’t connect, I don’t grow.
    Jesus was the ultimate connector.

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