To many people the word ‘church’ means a large building where Christians meet. To Christians it usually means the place where they meet with other believers to worship God. This may be in a home, a school, a church or under a tree. The word means both a place and a group of believers. It can also mean a much larger grouping of churches, all believing the same things and worshipping in a similar way. There is also a third meaning, when the word refers to all Christian believers.

Jesus first used the word that is translated ‘church’ in Matthew’s gospel, (Matthew 16:18). He used it to describe the gathering of people who believed in him – his followers. The first disciples believed that Jesus was the long-promised Christ and the Son of God. After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, these disciples – inspired by the Holy Spirit – played a key part in establishing the early church with the community of Jesus’ followers.

  • What do we think of when someone says the word ‘church’?
  • In 1 Peter 2:4-8 Jesus is referred to as the cornerstone or foundation. What is the significance of the cornerstone when building a house? What does this tell us about Jesus’ place in the church?
  • Read Matthew 16:13-18. What did Jesus mean when he talked about ‘my church’? Remember that at that time there were no church buildings. The early Christians sometimes gathered to worship in the temple at Jerusalem and probably in Jewish synagogues, but mainly in private houses.
  • Jesus himself never mentioned the idea of a building or a denomination. Why do Christians today seem to think these are so important? How much value do we give to our buildings and denomination?
  • Read John 17:20-23. Unity was very important to Jesus. How effectively do all the different denominations and groups that make up ‘the church’ work together in unity? What could we do better? How would this affect the witness of the church?