May 24, 2010 by

What Makes It "Church"?


Categories: church, Things that make our brains hurt

I haven’t been on here in over a week–sorry, been juggling lots of little appointments and assignments while battling fatigue–but if you’re still on board here, time for a little interaction…

I was thinking about something that happened about 3 years ago, a friend of mine from a mega-church attended a weekly Sunday evening worship gathering we had in our home for awhile. He particularly enjoyed the worship time and the teaching, but he stopped coming. A few months later, I saw him, and he explained that he had no trouble with us, and he loved what was going on in our living room–but because it wasn’t on Sunday morning at a church building, he just didn’t feel like he’d been to church.

So my question is…what makes it “church” for you? Bearing in mind that Christ-followers collectively are the church…what qualifies any particular expression of the church as legitimate in your own mind? What does a particular gathering have to look like for you to consider it a gathering of the church?

No right or wrong answers here–feel free to draw from your background, beliefs, interpretation of Scripture, whatever. Just tell us what you think.

It’s gonna be really quiet around here if you don’t start talking….

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

11 Responses to What Makes It "Church"?

  1. Al

    First thought is about your friend who 'didn't feel like he'd been to church' when he had attended your home gathering. I think many of us have feelings like his that are attached to the idea of 'church'–Sunday morning, large group, churchy building, grand music, official pastor, sermons, etc. etc. But those things are just extras, they aren't the core.
    For me, the core values of being the church need to involve relationships, meaningful conversations, active participation in local (and not-so-local) hands-on ministry, and some kind of contemplation/discussion of what is important. It doesn't have to be in a building, doesn't have to include music, doesn't have to be a consistent gathering of the group.
    Worship is so much more than listening to a fine piece of music. It needs to be participatory, and can happen as we enjoy the peacefulness of nature or the business of a soup kitchen.
    The contemplation of truth needs to be so much more than just listening to a talking head.
    Discipleship needs to be more than following a list of do's and don'ts.

  2. Anonymous

    “There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; this one will not admit Baptism; that one rejects the Sacrament of the altar; another places another world between the present one and the day of judgment; some teach that Jesus Christ is not God. There is not an individual, however clownish he may be, who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams.”

    Martin Luther

  3. co_heir

    A few years ago I would have said you have to have singing and a sermon or teaching time. Now I believe that anytime followers of Jesus (who are the church) gather, it's church.

    There was some good discussion on this over at Alan Knox's blog, "The Assembling of the Church."

  4. Erin

    Well, not to be overwhelmingly broad, but for me, church is when two or more people are selflessly doing something good for others.

  5. glenn

    Jeff – I agree with Al. I think of at least two Jesus lovers who share life. That might include meaningful discussions or selfless service. So, then we are likely to have moments of church here and there. It seems like the concept of community and mission are central to representing him and joining in His kingdom in the here and now.

  6. rob

    Been looking at the early church gathering, circa the time of the book of Acts… And asking why did they gather? And where? and when? I was reminded Church for them wasn't a place, it was a lifestyle. It was what they were; any gathering, anywhere and everywhere, of 2 and 3 and more with Jesus, was a gathering of the body.

    Seems we are so burdened down with cultural baggage, we've lost who we are…

    When and as we gather as temples of the spirit of Jesus, as and when his Spirit is being poured out through those gathered vessels (in N. T. style as we get a glimpse of in 1 Cor and in Romans), as we are one anothering, and minister to one another in the gifts as they are given by the Spirit, I would hope our spirit would be discerning the Presence that makes the church be, and moves us beyond our cultural baggage, helping us to lay it all down so we can be the church and recognize who the church is, rather than feeling like we missed it just because we didn't go to a building on a Sunday morning…

  7. Kansas Bob

    Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in Jesus name.. that is church.. as long as there is genuine sharing. Too much of what we call church is really just a combination of rock star and Tony Robbins' events – both are focused on performances.

  8. Jeff McQ

    Great thoughts, all. Thanks!

    Look for a followup post, cuz' your answers raised some other questions.

    Shoot. Martin Luther reads my blog? I thought he died years ago. 😀

  9. StevenAndrewMaze

    Sometimes learning what the church looks like involves much more deconstruction of ourselves than we are first willing to admit.

    We are the local called-ones of the much larger Body of Christ.

    Years ago I felt "called" as a teen in a Baptist revival service and then did everything I could to try and go somewhere to serve: Bible school in another state, and a short lived stint in a para-church ministry on the other side of the country, because I had been taught to "go." I was called but by no means mature; and my calling was my excuse to run from my past.

    I remain in my hometown, married now with two kids, and I believe now that I am called EXACTLY where I am to be. I have a "secular" job (don't believe it, that is just what others call it), and yet I see the hand of God using me right where I am–locally, often with no spotlight or association with the ministry going on in the four walls on the corner on Sunday.

    I find great comfort in these words from 1 Cor. 7:17-24 —> Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.

    Certainly, God can move and send us. But we can can take great joy in where we are and add to the local body in meaningful ways

    Finally, I see the church as Jesus Christ living through me, allowing me to be part-taker of the divine, where I am here and now.

  10. Mark


    I so appreciate your comment, particularly the part about having a "secular" job. My wife and I own two businesses, one that she runs, one that I run. We have a coffee shop, but it is not a "christian" coffee shop. I have a medical clinic, but it is not a "christian" clinic. The Lord has planted us where he wanted us, and he uses us to expand His kingdom. I strongly believe that God never intended the primary expression of ministry in His body to entail a full time minister in the pulpit, so to speak. The passage quoted is quite relevant.

    I think the description of your self, in your hometown, married, with children, in a secular job, is wonderful. I think there is a tendency among some Christians to be frustrated that they are not "called" or "being used" in some great and wonderful way, not realizing that the simple things are the great and wonderful things.

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