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April 30, 2019

Church: Place or People?

By John Muzyka

How do you define the word, church? Most pastors and leaders will quickly say that the church is the body of Christ, the people, or as the dictionary puts it, “the whole body of Christian believers.” Most people will default to the first definition in the dictionary, “a building for public Christian worship.” There is a third definition between the first two mentioned above that is “public worship of God or a religious service in such a building.” While all three definitions are found in the dictionary, is there a best definition for us to use or are all three equally beneficial? I challenge the church to consider this very carefully.

Comparing Definitions

The first definition frames church as a place. The building is the church. This definition would not have made sense to the early church, and in some parts of the world today Christians gather as the church without a building. The church in America has become very dependent on buildings. In many contexts, the place or the space is revered, and it is very commonly referred to as the church.

This second definition defines church as the action of public worship or a religious gathering in a defined space. This opens the definition to mean much more than sticks and bricks. It is focused on the actions of those that gather in the space or building.

When we subscribe to this definition, we realize that the church is the people. As followers of Jesus, we are the church. This definition is powerful and should unlock the potential of the church. A building does not proclaim the gospel. Christians do. A building does not grow a new believer in spiritual living. A Christian disciple does that. Whether the people gather in a home, at a water well, or in a church building, the church still gathers.  

Place or People?

Whether you are a church planter planting a church, a long time pastor leading a congregation with a 100+ year history, or a church member in a local church, the way we define church will show what we believe about church. It is easy to say that the church is the people, but listen to the words we use when talking or thinking about church. Here are a few examples. “Let’s go to church.” “I just left the church.” “Meet me at church.” “I go to XYZ Church.”

While these statements are not wrong, it shows how often we refer to church as a place. When church becomes a place, we minimize the power of the church. The church is the tool that God is using to proclaim the message of salvation to a dark world. When we define church as the whole body of Christian believers, we open the door to realize that each one of us is a gospel proclaiming tool uniquely designed by a all-knowing Creator God who loves us and designed us for His purpose.

I’ve heard missionaries say that the greatest trap or challenge in the American church is comfort. We have gotten comfortable in our nice church buildings. We go to church and hear a sermon then we go back about our daily lives. The church has become a charging station for weak believers to come in and get charged up 2-4 times per month. The church is the place we go for weddings, funerals, and Bible studies. Have we become so comfortable that we are okay to go to church instead of being the church?

My friend Jim Johnson is one of the Lead Pastors at Preston Trail Community Church, in Frisco, TX. He sums up the premise that church is a people not a place. “When we define the church as a place to go or an event to attend we will become a consumer. The church is made of people who follow Jesus and are interconnected with the purpose of serving one another in love and carrying out the mission of Jesus in the world. This gets you off the sidelines and makes you a contributor to the powerful endeavor that God has to redeem and make the world and all of creation new.”

Many church buildings are in decline. Fewer Americans are gathering regularly as the church than anytime in our history. It is the responsibility of the followers of Christ to leave the weak definition of church as a place and run toward the powerful truth that we are the Church and it is our responsibility to proclaim the gospel to a world that needs the light and love of Christ. I pray that we will be the church and introduce more people to Jesus and His redeeming love. Whether the church meets in a building, at a coffee shop, in a home, or in an office, let the place where two or more are gathered be a holy place where we proclaim the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Muzyka

John Muzyka (@JohnMuzyka) serves as a Senior Director at Church Realty in Plano Texas since 2006. John serves churches as they sell excess property for commercial use, sell existing church facilities, purchase buildings to convert to church use, purchase land, and lease space for church plants. John specifically focuses on serving church plants and multisite churches as they pursue facilities to launch new churches and campuses. John assists the church by identifying options, defining market areas, and counting the cost of the options as they seek to address their ministry and facility needs. Simply put, John helps church translate their mission, vision, and values into a real estate strategy. John currently resides in Frisco, Texas with his wife and two sons. www.churchrealty.com

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