The church is a central part of the Christian faith. But what exactly is its purpose according to the Bible? In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the many biblical purposes and roles of the church.
The church is defined as the body of Christ – those who have faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. There are over 2 billion Christians worldwide who are part of the universal church. Local churches are gatherings of believers in a particular location.
From the very start, the church played an integral part in the spreading of the gospel. The book of Acts describes the establishment and growth of the early church. The New Testament letters provide teaching and instruction to churches in various cities on how to live out the faith as a community.
So what exactly is the purpose of the church according to the Bible? Below is a summary of the key purposes:
- Worship God
- Equip and build up believers
- Preach the gospel and make disciples
- Administer the sacraments
- Be a loving community and family
- Care for each other spiritually and physically
- Participate in God’s mission in the world
The church is meant to be the visible representation of Christ’s body on earth. It is meant to be the light and salt in this world. The many biblical purposes of the church fall under four overarching categories: upward focus, inward focus, outward focus, and forward focus. Let’s now explore each of these in more detail.
Upward Focus – Worship
The primary purpose of the church that transcends all other purposes is the worship of God. The church exists first and foremost to exalt God’s name and give Him glory.
Romans 11:36 states:
For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (NKJV)
Hebrews 13:15 says:
The church worships God through singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16), presenting offerings (Philippians 4:18), prayer and through celebrating the sacraments of baptism and communion which were instituted by Christ.
Sunday worship service is the primary context for the church’s worship of God. Believers gather to honor and exalt the Lord through song, prayer, teaching, giving and communion. But worship must also extend beyond Sunday into all areas of life. Romans 12:1 urges believers to offer their whole lives as living sacrifices to God.
The church is meant to model true worship that flows from a transformed heart and mind. When believers gather, God should be the sole focus and recipient of their praise and adoration.
Inward Focus – Discipleship
While worship is the church’s priority, it also serves a critical purpose in training and equipping believers for Christian life and ministry. The church has an inward focus on fostering spiritual growth and biblical discipleship.
Ephesians 4:11-16 describes how God gifts people in various leadership roles to the church such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Their role is to equip God’s people for works of service so that the body is built up and attains unity of faith.
Biblical discipleship must result in transformed believers who imitate Christ. The Great Commission given by Jesus emphasizes discipleship:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV)
Sunday sermons are meant to teach and edify believers. Small groups provide a context for more intimate fellowship, Bible study, discussion and accountability. Church ministries like youth groups and children’s ministry help disciples grow. Pastoral counseling and mentoring relationships are also part of discipleship.
The church is a training ground for believers to grow in godly character, knowledge and skills so they can do the work of ministry. Biblical literacy, theological depth and Christian practices should be fostered by the church. Discipleship aims to fulfill Paul’s command in Colossians 1:28:
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. (NKJV)
Outward Focus – Evangelism & Social Concern
While the church has an inward focus of building up believers, it also has an equally important outward focus. This includes both evangelism and social concern for the needs of the world.
The Great Commission given by Jesus includes going into all the world to proclaim the gospel and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). The church is commanded to be a light to the world, pointing people to salvation in Christ.
1 Peter 3:15 instructs believers to always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks about the hope we have in Christ. Practically, this is lived out through personal evangelism, public preaching, apologetics, media evangelism, and missions. The church must mobilize believers to reach the lost both locally and globally.
In addition to proclaiming the gospel, the church is also tasked with addressing social needs and injustice in the world. James calls on believers to care for widows and orphans and keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).
The Old Testament prophets frequently preached against oppression, injustice and mistreatment of the poor – calling the people of God to live justly. Jesus identified with the poor and marginalized. The church is meant to be Salt and Light in this world, bringing Good News to the oppressed and needy through acts of mercy and justice.
As 1 John 3:17-18 states:
But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. (NKJV)
The church can do this through charity but also through advocacy for biblical values in society.
Forward Focus – Hope & Eschatology
Lastly, the church serves the purpose of pointing believers towards the hope of Christ’s return and eternal kingdom. It provides perspective on the present in light of God’s eternal promises.
Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 to “comfort one another with these words” in regards to Christ’s second coming. The return of Christ and future resurrection give encouragement amidst suffering and motivate holy living.
Titus 2:13 urges us to be “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The church helps anchor believers in the confident hope that pain and sorrow will pass away. There will be a new heaven and new earth where God will dwell with his people (Revelation 21:3-4).
The church calls believers to have an eternal perspective and set their minds on things above rather than earthly things (Colossians 3:2). Ecclesiology and eschatology are closely tied together. The present ministry of the church anticipates the future culmination and heavenly worship described in Revelation. The future kingdom should shape the priorities and mission of the present church.
With this forward focus, the church points to the true Hope of the world – Jesus Christ. It spurs believers on to persevere in faith as they eagerly await Christ’s return and live out God’s purposes.
To summarize, the biblical purposes of the church can be categorized as:
- Upward Focus: Worship God
- Inward Focus: Equip and build up believers through discipleship
- Outward Focus: Preach the gospel and show social concern for the world
- Forward Focus: Provide hope in the return of Christ and eternal kingdom
The many tasks of the church – from worship to evangelism to discipleship – collectively contribute to God’s mission of redemption. The church is meant to be the Body of Christ, fulfilling Jesus’ ministry on earth after his ascension. It lives out God’s calling to be a light and witness, serving as salt and leaven within society.
While the church is imperfect because of sin, it is nevertheless the primary agent of God’s work on earth. Jesus Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her, providing the grace for her renewal. As God’s redeemed people, the church joyfully pursues her calling to worship God, equip the saints, reach the lost, care for the poor, and anticipate Christ’s glorious return.