You can find all kinds of answer to that question. Answers range from a building to a specific hour of the week where people get together to sing, eat, listen and talk. Then you get a little more brainy and say in the Greek it comes from two words that together mean to be “called out.” That leads you to think of church as a group that is no longer a part of the world. You could look at church as one group of people (local) or as all people around the world who fit a certain definition or criteria (universal).
So what is church? Did Jesus and his disciples have a church? When they met together were they a “church”. During the passion week they shared the supper and even sang a song (Mtt 26:30)! Did Jesus have to give a sermon and there be two prayers for it to be “church proper”? Some seem to believe that not only do we have to sing a select number of songs and have prayers in specific locations in the order of worship but the songs better be of a certain variety and taste and the sermon not go too long in order for it to be pleasing to God and properly defined “church”.
The word in Greek where we get the word “church” (referenced above) basically means an assembled group of people that may or may not have a common purpose. More specifically it can refer to a group of Christians that hold a shared set of beliefs that convene at regular occasions. What is interesting to me is that we assume that those regular meetings are specifically for worship (the five acts specifically!) and when we do so we are by definition “church.” The word “church” also assumes an assembly. So to say “we are the church” requires the “we” and not just an “I” and it requires getting together, rubbing shoulders, and actually interacting with each other.
When Christ-followers get together for any set purpose they are perfectly fulfilling a biblical and conception of church and are by definition a “church.” We all know it is not the building that makes a church. We all know it is not how well songs are sung or even if songs are sung. Church does not have to be formal or formalized in order to be a church. The important thing is that people are gathering in Jesus’ name and that God is being glorified.
I believe that our narrow and restricted view of church has been detrimental to our spiritual health and well being. It is amazing to me that people have believed church to only be a model that has only existed for a short amount of time (the last couple hundred years) in a specific location (a Westernized, North American brand of Christianity that has been spread around the world by missionaries to other countries) and that any deviation from that no longer qualifies as “church.” How do I know that is the only model they recognize? Change up the service and see who complains. See who gets angry that the Lord’s supper was moved to the end of the service and you will find someone who needs a paradigm shift on a biblical model of “church”. Usually those are the ones who believe church is what we do one hour a week rather than who we are as God’s assembled people. It equally amazes me that the specific model (2 songs, a prayer, etc) that is held to tooth and nail is nowhere found in that mold in scripture.