What Does “Church” Mean?

by Pastor Matthew Norville, Sr.


The word “church” is used three different ways in the Scriptures. The context of how the word is used determines which of the three is being referred to.

“Church” could mean “the universal church,” meaning “all people who are Christians.”

“Church” could mean “the local church,” meaning “the pastor and the congregation.”

“Church” could mean “the church building,” meaning “the building where the local church (the pastor and the congregation) meets.”

In addition to the three ways that the Bible uses the word “church,” we sometimes use the word “church” in referring to “a church service.” We say, “We had church today,” or, “Let's have church,” or, a mother may say to her children, “No talking during church.” When the word is used in this way, in referring to “a church service,” it is talking about a meeting where people are gathered together to praise and worship God, to be taught the Word of God, to pray, to fellowship with each other, etc.

Sometimes the word “church” is misused. When people say things like, “I have always been a part of the Lutheran church. I have lived in 10 different cities and been a member of 10 different Lutheran congregations,” or, “When I move to a new city, I always join a congregation that is a member of the Baptist church,” or, “The Methodist church has 80 pastors with congregations in this area,” or, “The head office of the Assemblies of God church is located in Springfield, Missouri,” they are misusing the word. In the Bible (the Word of God), and in the context of Christianity, there is no such thing as “the Lutheran church,” or “the Baptist church,” or “the Methodist church,” or the “Assemblies of God church,” These are “denominations” of Christianity. The proper word to use in this context is “denomination,” not “church.” (see What is a Denomination?)

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This page last updated May 1, 2016.