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What is a Church?

During my first month as President of the Congregational Federation, I have travelled far and wide, visiting Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as England! I have shared worship with congregations large and small, sometimes in as many as five locations on a single Sunday.


I have worshipped on weekdays with people who never attend on a Sunday - are they church too?

The church buildings I have visited have ranged from a beautifully maintained chapel in the Welsh valleys to a portable cabin in a very deprived inner city area of Scotland; from a classical chapel with unique features such as a wire contraption under the fold-up wooden seats to enable the gentlemen to store their top hats with safety during the service, to a pulpit in the church hall -perhaps so that the preacher can finish his long-running sermon over refreshments! All this travel and the experiences so far have caused me to ask myself the question “What is a Church”? In other words, what are the unique features that make a church, church?

What is a Church?
what is a churchIs it the building in which people meet, Sunday by Sunday? Does it have to have pews and a pulpit, a grand organ and balconies? Are there any essentials that the building needs to possess in order to be a church?

Or will just anything do as long as it is where people worship on a Sunday? Some of the churches I have visited have been located in the poorest and most bereft areas yet they are meeting the needs of their neighbourhood. Or, indeed, is it meeting on a Sunday that makes a gathering a church, irrespective of the building?

What is a church?
Is it the people who meet together for worship? I have worshipped with large(ish) congregations with organ accompaniment and traditional orders of service. I have also taken communion with four other people in an informal atmosphere.

The music for the singing was provided by a CD player operated by one of the congregation and the communion plate was carried from church to church because they cannot afford their own.

Sitting, standing, in pews, in rows, in a circle. Which is the church?

What is a church?
Is it the time and date of the services that make it “church”? I have worshipped with classical congregations on a Sunday morning, or afternoon, or evening. I have worshipped on weekdays with people who never attend on a Sunday – are they church too?

what is a churchI would suggest that a working definition of a “church” is the two or three people who gather together for Christian worship, irrespective of the location, building, or circumstances, the age or youth of the people or their number, the day of the week or time of day

All of these churches are part of our Federation. All of them are serving their people just where they are – city, urban or rural. All deserve our prayerful support and recognition of the sterling work that they are undertaking. May I suggest to you that you make a commitment to pray for our churches in your church or your private prayer time?

You can find a list of our churches in the Federation Year Book or on-line. You might even like to let each church that you pray for know that they have been in your prayers. I am sure it would be a great encouragement to them in their work.

I am reminded of a hymn by Carol Rose Ikeler which is special to me: “The church is wherever God’s people are … praising, trying, loving, seeking.” (Church Hymnary 522)

Is that the answer to my question?

Paul Davis
CF President