This is a somewhat controversial question. It does mean different things to different people of different faiths. I adhere to the Christian faith which for those reading who are non-christian may disqualify me from the discussion.
I have a favorite book by Hugh Halter, and Matt Smay called The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community. It is the story of Hugh Halter’s journey to attempting to discover how scripture describes the Church.
In the book, I was taken by many statements, but one statement in particular concerning the revolutionary change in the Christian church that was brought on by Emperor Constantine makes me wonder: “The church was no longer defined as ‘people who’ but rather ‘a place where.’ Before Constantine, the church was known as a group of people who lived a certain way and treated others in ways that reflected this belief in Jesus Christ. They lived this way so profoundly and loudly that they were persecuted and even killed for their actions and beliefs.
Now, in reality, the statement reflects a lot of history and much of it positive. Constantine took a small-ish religion and brought it to the forefront of the people of the time. But the long-lasting repercussions created a new paradigm for the Church. Constantine helped cause the church to become a place and not people!
What should the Church look Like?
In Acts 2, the church was revealed as a movement of God in the hearts of the people (through the Holy Spirit). While we often talk about the church that we attend we should be more familiar with the church that we are. This idea more closely resembles what God established.
I think that it comes down to something that I once heard Andy Stanley say from the stage at North Point Community Church. As followers of Christ, we must represent the true nature of our God instead of the humanly interpreted system of church (I am paraphrasing fairly I think). Andy was simply echoing the words of Jesus when he said to love others. (John 13)
But what does it really mean – right here, right now?
It seems to mean that just like Jesus we go into the neighborhood. In the Message version of scripture John 1:14 says: “The Word (meaning Jesus who is often called the Word) became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”
I believe that until people see the Church like this with their own eyes through love and relationship with God’s people that Church will not happen the way that God designed.
We need to step out of the building and into the street and begin to wake up each day saying what will God’s love require of me today.
These are great resources to discover or re-discover Church for yourself.