What is the Local Church?

I am currently in the PhD program at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. My last doctoral seminar was on the topic of biblical ecclesiology—the study of the church. One of our capstone projects was to formulate some thoughts about (1) the local church; (2) the ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper); (3) church discipline; and (4) church leadership, membership, and polity (government).

Over the next few weeks I plan to share with you some of the thoughts and conclusions I came to after a couple months of reading and study. Today we will start with something very brief. I was asked to define the local church in 100 words or less. The following is what I proposed:

The local church is a regular gathering of like-minded believers for the glory of God. Under the ultimate headship of Christ Jesus, the church is led by pastors/elders/overseers, served by deacons, and ruled by its members in good standing. The church exists to worship its Savior through all of its ministries, which include, but are not limited to: the preaching/teaching of the Word, the observance of the ordinances, the spreading of the gospel, and the fellowship of the saints.

What would you add or subtract from this definition? What would you write if you were asked to define the local church in 100 words or less? I look forward to reading your thoughts!

Published by Travis Flanagan

I am a believer, husband, and father who loves serving the Lord and the local church. I am currently an associate pastor of youth/discipleship and a pastoral research assistant for two pastors. Educationally, I have a BA and an MA in Biblical and Theological Studies from Criswell College. I am currently pursuing a PhD in Theology from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. My research interests include the early church and Greco-Roman voluntary associations (and especially the relationship between the two!).

30 thoughts on “What is the Local Church?

  1. I would have probably added about the holy communion. The early church did perform the holy communion when they gathered together.
    I don’t know if this will help, but i hope it does. Keep up the good work! God bless! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for sharing your insights, good post. Since you asked, the ‘local church’ can be an ‘organized’ church as you described but also a gathering of Christ’s body as a living organism, so to speak. One day the ‘local organuzed church’ may be shut down and the local Body of Christ must rise up:
    The gathering of two or more believers, in any venue, who determine to glorify God. They gather to ‘eat and drink of the Lord’ and seek ways to share this living Bread with others. Godly leadership rises up to teach.
    Well, that’s my thought. Maybe too simplistic but I am so leary of church ‘business’. God bless you as you press on in Christ!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I like your thoughts – over the years I’ve heard it said that too many times, an ‘organism’ is turned into an ‘organization’ and basically destroyed. Choked out. Life in this world gets complicated & pressured, priorities mixed up…we need to be on guard, I think, in the Body as well as the world, partaking of substance rather than form. I don’t know how that can be done in a large church, though…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like your definition, but it implies that local churches exist to serve the Lord and themselves. I would add something about local community outreach (or, if that’s what you meant with “spreading the gospel,” you could be more specific in using a word like “outreach” because the outreach programs in local churches focus on helping people, giving free food, etc. vs. just trying to add more church members). 🙂

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Agreed, Lily. I think the ideal church leads by example and gives to the community, not specifically to ‘win over’ new members, but to put the teachings into practice in a meaningful way. The church should minister (provide counselling, food, clothing, blankets and activities) to everyone who will accept them, believers or not. To me, this is the best kind of active worship.


  4. I agree.
    On the flip side I feel the local churches often teeter on idolatry; such as more specific doctrine of faith based church (and living) VS. Christ based faith church (and Living).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I used to fellowship at a local, non-denominational church where, after awhile, I began to see that their ‘evangelism program’ (and other programs) were what sat on the throne there, not Jesus Himself. At some point I came across a teaching tape I had bought years before, but never listened to – I forget the topic, but as part of the message, the pastor warned of this specific…anomaly. That you have to be careful, this kind of thing happens. It is devilish.

      We may not be speaking of the exact same thing here, but in the same ball park anyway.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Very much in the ball park. There have been times what you speak of has been exactly what I have witnessed too places. I also know many who “idolize” the pastor and what the pastor says and believes is more gospel to them. It is a feeling for me where I was like RUN!!! Then I prayed and realized sometimes God needs folks in “devilish” places to see clear for themselves; 🙂


  5. I would add something around the giftings by the Holy Spirit to individual believers to for the edification of the local body. the Local Church is where individual believers can exercise their gifts as given by the Holy Spirit for the edification and building of the local body.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Good summary and idealistic. That is the goal. I would add that the church body, the believers, exist together as flawed individuals saved by grace together, humbly relying on His salvation and mercy. It is all about Him, and as such His Word trumps any ambitions the church has and all ambitions are for God. Often people join churches for comfort and socialization and it can never be about us. But I am sure that was implied or softly stated somewhere. ☺

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Man, summarizing the concept of the local church in 100 words or less is a pretty daunting challenge! But you did a good job. I really like your answer. I think the only thing I would recommend adding to it would be a brief statement about how the local church relates to the universal church, the body of Christ. Just a simple explanation of the distinction. God bless!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Here is my try.
    A local Baptist church is centered on a regular gathering of like-minded believers to worship God. Guided by Scripture, the church is led by pastors and deacons, and ruled by its members. The church serves its Savior through all of its ministries, which include, but are not limited to: the preaching/teaching of the Word, the observance of the ordinances, the spreading of the gospel, and the fellowship of the saints. Members are given the opportunity to mature in their relationship with Christ and know the Holy Spirit through the work of the church.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Travis

    Very interesting!
    I would start off as… The Church is the body of Christ, a gathering of those whose spirits have been made alive by the grace of God through faith, who now live for His glory and pleasure, demonstrated in their worship of Him and loved for others.

    I look forward to your comments, and future blog entries!

    Clayton Kaila

    Liked by 2 people

  10. That is a great definition. I would probably add to make “making disciples” and promote the great commission.
    But these kind of 100 word assignments make it difficult to add everything.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I wrote a paper a few years ago. I wish I could find it. It had some great points on the purpose of the church. We call our church ….a mission station. A place to meet to praise and worship, fellowship, study, break bread together, etc.

    A mission station is where the body of Christ comes together to plan ways to serve our community.

    It’s the people outside the doors of the church that Jesus is searching for. They are the ONE lost sheep that Jesus is looking for. Church people are on the right side of the door. We will learn based on the intensity of the hunger we have to want more of Jesus. All people have the right to know of Gods unconditional love for them or at least be reminded. They are not going to come to us. We have to go to them. Some people have been hurt by the church. Some people don’t know what the bible says. Some are afraid, not comfortable going to a strange place not having a clue of what to do, where to sit or know the Lords prayer that a lot of churches say without considering the newbies that may not know. Hospitality has always been a priority for my church and making someone feel welcomed and offering assistance has really paid off. People return with confidence and sense of belonging. Gosh, I like I’m writing a paper .These are just some thoughts….cause that’s what I do. Blessings to you!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I’m pondering the phrase “ruled by the members in good standing.” I’m not sure what is meant here. In my local church our members vote on our elders and deacons and we vote on any issue that the elders bring to the body, but for the most part the elders make the decisions and “rule” the church. So I’m not sure how the members rule the body. Any thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. The concept I am advocating is a congregational polity, somewhat similar to a democracy (though there is not a one-to-one correspondence). In the NT there are several instances of the entire church body making decisions.


  13. I would say that the church is all those who have received salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, where two or more believers have gathered in His name, where the body can encourage, teach, and build one another up in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, where all can fellowship, worship, and minister about Christ, the church body evangalizes, nurtures, and observes the ordinances, follows and studies scripture, and must show love to their neighbors by at least meeting them and getting to know them…(you can’t love your neighbors, if you don’t know who they are!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. David, thanks for reading and thanks for your service to the Lord. I think your definition is good, but I would push back a little on your explanation. I agree that some outside and human thoughts can make their way into the church, but the New Testament does offer some structure and some elements which the church needs to follow. In the church, we cannot shy away from doing what the New Testament prescribes in fear that it will become worldly. Things like baptism and the Lord’s Supper are vital elements in the church. The preaching of the Word is the most vital element in the church, because without the gospel a church ceases to be a church. For that reason, I think these things need to be included in a definition of the church.


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