What Is the Purpose of the Church?

Paul Enns
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Two overriding purposes of the church can be delineated: gathered, ministering to the body, and scattered, ministering to the world.[1] It is important to distinguish these two purposes. On the one hand, the church gathers as a body of believers wherein believers minister to one another; on the other hand, the church is to minister the gospel to unbelievers in the world. These two purposes must be kept distinct: the church ministers to both believers and unbelievers. There are a number of functions in each of these two major areas. (Also see the discussion under “Functions of the Local Church.”)

Gathered: Ministering to the Body

The purpose for the church gathered is for the church to come to maturity (Eph. 4:13). Many activities are noted in the gathered church to accomplish this end.


The word teaching (Gk. didache) is synonymous with the word doctrine. Teaching is an important factor in edification, and it made up a vital part of the New Testament church. Members of the early church steadfastly devoted[2] themselves to the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42). They taught the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ (Acts 4:2); they taught continually, as they had opportunity (Acts 5:21, 25), to the extent that the entire city of Jerusalem was saturated with the teaching about Christ and His atonement (Acts 5:28). The heart of their message was that Jesus was indeed the Messiah (Acts 5:42; 17:3). Teaching the new believers resulted in their maturity (Acts 11:26; 15:35).

“The purpose for the church gathered is for the church to come to maturity.”

The goal of Paul’s teaching was to present a believer mature in Christ (Col. 1:28); hence, teaching was to be an ongoing practice to succeeding generations (2 Tim. 2:2). Failure to do so or failure to respond to teaching resulted in spiritual babyhood (Heb. 5:12). A simple concordance study will reveal the importance of teaching as a New Testament emphasis.


In addition to teaching, the New Testament church utilized other spiritual gifts in ministering to the body. This relationship within the body of Christ is seen in the term “one another” (cf. Rom. 12:5, 10, 16; 13:8; 14:13, 19; 15:5, 7, 14). This also emphasizes the importance of fellowship with the church gathered. The gathered church had fellowship in suffering (Acts 4:23; 5:41), fellowship in unity (Acts 2:46; 4:31; Phil. 2:1–4), fellowship in ministry (Acts 4:31), fellowship in prayer (Acts 2:14, 42; 4:31; 12:5, 12; 13:3; 16:25), fellowship in the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:14), as well as fellowship around meals (Acts 2:46). Interestingly, this fellowship was daily (Acts 2:46). This fellowship also demanded supporting widows, orphans, and the needy in one’s own family (1 Tim. 5:8; James 1:27).


Worship is an integral part of the church gathered. Many of the things already mentioned are a reflection of worship (e.g., the Lord’s Supper). From the start, prayer was an important aspect of worship by the gathered church. When fellow believers were in need, the church prayed (Acts 12:5, 12). Scripture reading also had a central part in the church gathered (Acts 4:24–26; 1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 3:15–17). This no doubt followed the pattern of synagogue worship in which the reading and exposition of Scripture was emphasized.[3] Singing was a vital part of the early church as a sincere expression of worship (Acts 16:25; 1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).

Scattered: Ministering to the World

The New Testament church did not attempt to carry out its evangelism within the confines of a building but rather out in the world. The foundational command for evangelism in the world is Matthew 28:18–20. The work of the church in the world is to make disciples (learners), baptize them, and bring them into the fellowship of believers. The ministry of evangelism was not carried on by a select few but by ordinary believers as well (Acts 8:4). The central message the early church proclaimed was Christ (Acts 8:5, 12, 35; 9:20; 11:20); moreover, they took their message beyond the Jewish boundary, crossing previously rigid cultural barriers (Acts 10:34–43; 11:20; 14:1). The result was that many people became believers (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1; 8:12; 10:48; 11:24; 13:48; 14:1, 21).

The question concerning the nature of the gospel has long been debated. However, the New Testament has little to say about social responsibility in the world. Galatians 6:10 stresses helping fellow believers; believers are also to “do good to all men.” In examining Paul’s message in Acts, the emphasis is on believing that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 16:31). Thus, Paul delineates the essence of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1–4— it is believing in the death and resurrection of Christ.

[1] See Gene A. Getz, Sharpening the Focus of the Church (Chicago:Moody,1974),40–50, 75–83, 269–316.

[2] The Greek present participle proskarterountes stresses that they were continually doing this.

[3] Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content (Nashville: Abingdon, 1965), 56–60.

For Further Reading:

The Moody Handbook of Theology

by Paul Enns

The study of God, His nature, and His Word are all essential to the Christian faith. Now those interested in Christian theology have a newly...

book cover for The Moody Handbook of Theology