Some people might view the church merely as a social institution—a place to hang out, meet friends, or network for business. And while the church does serve as a place of community and belonging, where people can feel safe and needed, it is so much more.
The church is the only organization Jesus ever started. He established it more than two thousand years ago—and it is still going strong. The church is not perfect, and we in the church certainly have our flaws, but there is nothing like it in the world.
Why did Jesus create the church, and what is its function? More specifically, what should your local church be doing if it is going to fulfill its purpose and mission? How can it thrive, grow, and change the world?
The answer is threefold. Your church should be glorifying God, edifying the saints, and evangelizing the world. In other words, it should focus upward, inward, and outward.
1. Your Church Should Glorify God
The first purpose of the church is to exalt God. We were put on this earth to know and to glorify the Lord. According to Ephesians 1:12, we are here to praise our glorious God! This is why we worship the Lord in song. Worship through music is a foundational part of a church service. A worship team is not there to perform for you. They “perform” for an audience of one: God!
And they are not a warm-up act either. They are there to lead the people in worship, in prayer set to song. That is why we should never be late to church. When we are late, we miss out on glorifying God together. He inhabits the praises of His people (see Psalm 22:3).
One of the most powerful things I had ever seen when I first came to church was worship. Back in those days, the choruses and chords were very simple, but the worship was positively supernatural. Did you know that your worship is a witness?
Acts 2:47 says that the early church was “praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (NKJV). There was a direct connection between worship and witness. We are being watched, both inside and outside the walls of our church.
Sitting next to you on any given Sunday may be a visitor or a nonbeliever. They are essentially sizing everything up by what they see. Not just what happens on the platform, but among the people around them.
During times of worship, do you sing out to the Lord, or do you sit, disengaged? Worse yet, do you talk with the person next to you or spend the time texting? What message are you sending to those visitors?
When we glorify God in church with other believers, it gives us perspective. When we come to God in prayer and in worship, we see things correctly. This is why Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father who art in heaven.”
It causes us to remember, whatever we are facing, that the all-powerful, all-knowing God of the universe who loves us is listening. But when we isolate ourselves from other believers, we lose perspective. We can become fearful, confused, angry, and even bitter.
The purpose of the church is to glorify God—to reach upward. When we come to church with the intention of blessing the Lord, regardless of circumstances or emotions, we are fulfilling our purpose for existence, and we usually come away blessed as well.
2. Your Church Should Edify the Saints
The apostle Paul said that his goal was to both warn believers and teach them “with all the wisdom God has given us, for we want to present them to God, mature in their relationship to Christ” (Colossians 1:28 NLT). This is why biblical teaching should take such a prominent place in church.
As a pastor and teacher, I do not want to waste my congregation’s time. My opinion is not any more valuable than any other person’s. I am not there to be a cheerleader or a “life coach” or a motivational speaker. I am not there to be a psychologist or a political pundit. I am there for one reason: to teach the Word of God.
All that matters is what the Bible says. “For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT). Martin Luther said, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.”
I was amazed when I first heard the Bible taught. It made sense; it applied to my life! And it’s not only strong preaching of the Word that counts, but also strong listening. The early church, the church that changed the world, understood this. In Acts 2:42 we read, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (NKJV).
To “continue steadfastly” speaks of a real passion. This was not a casual attitude, as one might have when joining a social club. There was a spiritual excitement in what they did. They applied themselves to what was being taught from the Word. I believe there is a need for anointed preaching today, but I also believe there is a need for anointed listening—having an openness to receive God’s Word.
We are not all called to go to the same church, but we are all called to be a part of a church. Why? Because you need consistent theology. Doctrine (what we believe) affects everything we do. Paul said, in 1 Timothy 4:16, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (NIV). What you believe matters.
That is why I have never understood how people will rate facilities, convenience, proximity, etc. as the criteria for choosing where they go to church. The top priority in looking for a church is that God’s Word is taught there.
But why should you have a home church? Because you need a place to be accountable. You need a pastor who can help and influence you. If there is something wrong, your pastor can tell you. If you are doing great, your pastor can commend and encourage you. You need a place to give faithfully and consistently of your finances. And you need a place to serve God with the gifts He has given you!
Many people will treat the church like a movie theater. Getting there late, leaving while the credits are rolling, checking texts and emails during the film, etc.—sometimes we bring that same consumer mentality to church. If we foster consumers instead of communers, we’ll end up with customers instead of disciples. It might fill up an auditorium, but it will never turn the world upside down for Christ.
3. Your Church Should Evangelize the World
This purpose of the church is a natural outgrowth of the first two. If we are glorifying God and edifying one another, we will naturally want to share the hope of salvation with others through our loving actions and words. Healthy sheep will reproduce themselves. This was Christ’s commandment before He ascended into Heaven: “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone” (Mark 16:15 NLT). The church should do just that.
We are light to the world and salt to the culture. Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (NKJV).
We do good works in our community: feeding, clothing, helping people get off drugs. We spend countless hours counseling people with marital problems. We reach out to unwed mothers, even helping them to find homes for their unwanted babies. The list goes on and on. Our purpose is to shine God’s light in this dark world.
But we are also salt. Jesus said, in Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (NIV). Salt, in biblical times, was used to preserve meat. The church is a preservative in the culture. As that preservative, we stand up for what is right and true. We oppose sin and yet we love sinners and want them to be saved.
We are here to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The church makes a huge mistake when it tries too hard to relate and ends up compromising. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.”
The church fulfills its calling and commission when it draws people to the Lord.
Act Now or Stagnate
Upward, inward, outward—if the church isn’t moving, acting, and loving in all three directions, then it is forgetting its purpose, and chances are it is stagnating. Things that grow stagnant soon begin to fester and decay.
If you want to see church in a whole new way, stop thinking like a consumer. Start thinking like a disciple. It’s not about you; it is about God and others. Ask the Lord what your place is in the church. Come not to be served, but to serve, and watch what God will do. Church will come alive to you as a result. May God fill us with the Holy Spirit to impact this world.
Pastor Greg Laurie serves as the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, which has campuses in Southern California and Hawaii. He is the author of more than 70 books, hosts the nationally syndicated radio broadcast A New Beginning, and is the founder of Harvest Crusades, large-scale evangelistic events attended by millions of individuals worldwide. Learn more at Harvest.org.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Rosie Fraser
Greg Laurie is the pastor and founder of the Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and of Harvest Crusades. He is an evangelist, best-selling author and movie producer. His newest book Lennon, Dylan, Alice & Jesus released on May 17, 2022.