Let's Rethink ... What is a Real Church?

Paul Adams

What is a church? Lots of people think churches are buildings, but the buildings are only the places where the real church meets.  In many parts of the world, the church often has no dedicated space to meet in.  They may worship under a shady tree, in a forest, in a cave, often in people’s homes, sometimes in a café.  But wherever they meet the church is ‘the people who God has called out’ from the world as a special people who belong to Him.

So we don’t go to church, we are the church!  We may go somewhere to meet other people of the church but wherever we meet and however many or few there may be, the Lord Jesus is with us.  He said, “Where two or three come together in my name there am I with them” Matthew 18:20.

Practically, it is important for people to meet regularly together in a family setting which we call a local church.  After all, we are the ‘children of God’ and so we are all brothers and sisters together.  In the local church we are known and loved, taught, nurtured and disciplined to become effective disciples of Jesus Christ, to worship and serve Him. 

However, it is very easy for such a family grouping to be more interested in themselves than in those outside the family.  It is a danger for every church to become a club.  It is dangerous because that mentality prevents the church from doing the work of proclaiming the gospel to those who are outside the church.  Archbishop William Temple was right in saying, “The church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members.”

Of course the prime purpose of the church is to worship God and exhibit His glory to the world.  But, as John Piper said, “Missions exists because worship doesn't”.  There are probably >90% of people in the UK who have not the slightest interest in Jesus Christ.  So they cannot worship Him.  That is why they need to be reached with the gospel.  Nobody else will do that other than the church.

The church has many functions.  It has been likened to a hospital for the sick, a gym for the fit, an advance military unit, a family, a coastguard station, a body (of Christ), a lifeboat service, a mountain rescue team, a flock of sheep, a household, a vineyard, a temple and an Olympic athletics team.

A real church is upward-worshipping, together-serving and outwards-reaching.  But of all the countries of the world, the church in the UK has one of the greatest rates of decline - when most other countries are spiritually growing with new believers and new churches.  Why is this?  The simple answer is that more Christians are dying than people are being converted.  Put simply, most UK churches are not actively in mission-mode.

Salvation is the work of God, but He has chosen to present the gospel to the world through the church.

Always be an intentionally missional church!


© Dr Paul Adams