What Makes it a Church?

I was driving with Allison not long ago when we came across a church that had a sign to attract people to come to this particular church. Although it was worded much more eloquently, the sign essentially said, “Don’t like that contemporary music at your current church, then come to ours – we’re doing it the way that you got used to 50 years ago”. Again, they said it in a much nicer way than that, but that was it’s essence.

It got me thinking about churches that I know of that actually aren’t doing anything to reach people far from God, but instead have gotten really good at collecting disgruntled believers from other churches. Most churches are good at hiding that, by having something in their mission statement about reaching unbelievers or something like that, but their reality hasn’t reflected actually doing that in 30 years. At least this one church was being honest about what they’re doing – trying to connect with Christians who are looking to leave their church.

All this led me to ponder out loud – can those churches actually be defined as a church? Isn’t one of the core, defining characteristics of what makes a church, a church, that it actively lives out the mission of Jesus? Would the New Testament call it a church if it wasn’t doing that? Is it a church because they read the Bible and sing some songs? Is it a church because the name on their sign says so?

As we move forward on seeing 50 churches planted in the next 5 years, one of our expectations is that we would be seeing new churches help people discover faith in Jesus. Shouldn’t our expectation be the same for the long established churches as well? And if they aren’t, what should we call them if they’re missing one of the essential defining characteristics of what it means to be a church?

What is it that makes a church, a church?