Tell me, “What exactly is the function of the Church?”
Our Book of Discipline is clear about why the church exists:
Unfortunately, many church people have forgotten why their church exists . . .
¶ 202. The Function of the Local Church — The church of Jesus Christ exists in and for the world. It is primarily at the level of the charge consisting of one or more local churches that the church encounters the world. The local church is a strategic base from which Christians move out to the structures of society. The function of the local church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is to help people to accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to live their daily lives in light of their relationship with God. Therefore, the local church is to minister to persons in the community where the church is located, to provide appropriate training and nurture to all, to cooperate in ministry with other local churches, to defend God’s creation and live as an ecologically responsible community, and to participate in the worldwide mission of the church, as minimal expectations of an authentic church.
In my previous work as a Congregational Vitality Strategist (CVS), and now in my work with the Church Legacy Initiative (CLI), I see churches with little to no vision or plan to move forward. Some church members have expressed their disappointment in any vitality process because “it didn’t work.” What I have learned is there has been no follow up. When churches participate in a vitality process, it helps to understand this is a long-term process not a one-time-only process. Checking vitality must be on-going. Evaluation must be on-going. Visioning must be on-going. A reminder of why their church exists must be on-going.
When I ask, “Why does the church exist? What makes us different from the Lions Club, the Kiwanis Club, or the Rotary Club?” the response is often blank stares. We all have wonderful fund raisers and do great things for our community and world, but really, what is the difference? There must be a reason why the church exists. Tell me, “What exactly is the function of the Church?” It’s simple. The church exists for the world … encounters the world … “to help people to accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to live their daily lives in light of their relationship with God.” And because this is our function, we reach out to others, make disciples, baptize, teach, and share God’s gift of grace.
People have actually told me their church is in decline because “the conference doesn’t send the right preacher,” or because “the conference doesn’t care about small churches,” et cetera. There is a myriad of reasons their church is in decline. It could be due to changes in the community. For example, I worked with one church that, in its early history, was the center of the town’s activity. It was the original Meeting House for the town. Then something drastic happened. The entire town re-located to another area of the community. However, the church remained in the same place. I worked with another church that, in its earliest beginnings, was considered the Town Church. Later the town completely disappeared. However, the church remained. The Church Legacy Initiative works with many churches who have experienced a variety of changes in their community: population shifts, retiree communities, former mill communities, loss of area businesses, influx of other churches, et cetera.
There is no doubt the community is important to our churches. When the community drastically changes, the church must change, too. There is also no doubt the church is important to our communities. Remember why we exist? The church exists for the world … encounters the world … “to help people to accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to live their daily lives in light of their relationship with God.” Friends, it’s really not about us. Rather it’s about how we reach out to the world. A vital, healthy church has a relentless outward focus rather than an inward focus.
Tell me, “What exactly is the function of the Church?” In the words of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20).
Rev. Charlotte G. Brendel is a Team Associate with the Church Legacy Initiative. Rev. Brendel previously served as the Congregational Vitality Strategist (CVS) for the Appalachian and Catawba Valley Districts, and has served churches in Hickory, Morganton, Shelby, and Chattanooga, TN
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