This article was written for The Briefing.

Article Headings

What is church for?

What is ‘church’?

So what is church for?


  • Is church for evangelism?
  • Is church for worship?
  • Is church for edification?
  • What about church growth?

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We Christians are very interested in church, and we have vested interests in church. For those of us who are pastors and ministers of the gospel, the church is our business and our life. It employs us, directs us and consumes most of our waking hours. This tends to give us a very high view of the importance of church and its significance. It’s very hard to work out what church is in the grand scheme of the universe when church is what my job is, where my pay comes from, and provides my ‘customer’ and my friends.

In fact, this is one of the great problems within church circles where I live: we have moved away from parish ministry into church ministry. We are ceasing to evangelize because we spend all our time in church, with church people, running church, making church work, making church better, and trying to grow our church, because church is so important. Instead of leaving the 99 to go and find the one, we are unwilling to leave the 50 go and reach the 30,000 who live all around us, and who are not hearing the gospel because we’re spending all of our time with the 50 in church.

At the moment we’re caught somewhere between everywhere and nowhere as to the importance of church. At one level, church seems to be everything to us. I’ve been preaching through 1 John recently, and I’d always believed that 1 John was about a split in a church—that people had left as a result of rejecting the incarnation, and John was writing to the congregation that was left. But it’s very interesting: there is no reference to a church anywhere in 1 John, no synonym for a church, and no discussion of the concept of church. There is no indication whatsoever that John is writing to or addressing a church.  1 John 2:19 says “They went out from us, but they were not of us”, but who are the “us”? And why do we assume it’s a church? We read ‘church’ in, because for us church is so important that we see it everywhere.

On the other hand, church is nowhere today, because more and more of our society regards church as being of almost no significance. We have been post-Christendom since the Reformation; so church in terms of church-and-state no longer has the power and importance it used to have. We’re also supposed to be ‘post-Christian’, although interestingly the majority of our community are still calling themselves Christian, in whatever sense or understanding they have of what that means. 60%-70% of the community call themselves Christian, but you and I would say only 3-4% of the community actually trust Jesus Christ as their Lord. There seems to be a huge gulf in understanding between church people and their perception of Christianity, and the wider community. It may be more accurate to say that we are in a post-church era rather than a post-Christian era, or perhaps that we’re in a post-organized-religion era. That is, many people say, “I believe in God and I believe Jesus is God, but I just can’t stand church and I don’t go to it. I find other activities are more interesting, and you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian, do you?”

Read the full article at The Briefing: What is church for?

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