When the impressive and dedicated group of candidates for our Vestry spoke last Sunday at the “Meet the Candidates” Forum, at some point each one expressed the aspiration to “grow the church”! But what does that mean, to “grow the church”? One immediately thinks of increasing membership and financial resources – and perhaps enhancing facilities. But is that the best definition?
The common definition of ‘church’ is ‘a building used for public worship, a body or organization of religious believers’. The word ‘church’ comes from the Greek word ekklesia, which is defined as ‘an assembly’ or ‘called-out ones.’ The root meaning of ‘church’ is not that of a building, but of people.
The Bible repeatedly reminds us that the church is the body/group of believers in Christ. Ephesians 1:22-23 says,
“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body”
The body of Christ is made up of all believers in Jesus Christ, gathered in one universal church. We read in Romans 12:5:
“So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
The true church, then, is the gathering of the believers (congregations) who come together to participate in fellowship with one another as they worship God, study scripture readings, and support each other in continuing the work of Jesus on earth. At its best, a congregation offers a sense of belonging and being involved with one another in common goals – a community of people with shared beliefs. It gives one another some spiritual safety, friendship, fellowship and encouragement. It teaches its people things they would not learn on their own. A congregation helps train our children, and supports families. It provides members with help in times of illness, and solace in times of grief. The ‘church’ creates opportunities for its members to serve others in their community and world. It helps us work together for more effective ministry, and gives us opportunities to serve that help us grow in ways we do not expect. This fellowship, worship, and ministry are all conducted by people, not buildings.
The purpose of the church building is
“to equip the people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).
A ‘church’ is a body of believers united in the teachings of Jesus. The ‘church’ is about praising and thanking our Creator, and nurturing and helping believers to mature in their faith. The ‘church’ is about spreading the Good News about Jesus, salvation, and eternal life.
The ‘church’ reaches out with compassion to those who are needy and searching for Jesus, striving to make a real difference in the world. A building can do none of these.
In summary, the church is neither a building nor a denomination. According to the Bible, the church is the body of Christ—all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13). The ‘church’ is a community of people, encouraging, teaching, and building up one another in the knowledge and grace of Jesus. The purpose of the church is to both glorify God, and to inform the world about the words and work of Christ.
This is the kind of ‘church’ that Saint John’s aspires to be, and works daily to become. It needs resources and facilities, yes – but what it needs most is its people, and their love for Jesus Christ and one another!
Thanks be to God!
 (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, #1577)
The Rev deniray mueller, CCrossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 7 February 2018