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The line, “You want to be where everyone knows your name” may recall to many the theme song for the popular 80’s sitcom, Cheers. True to its theme song, the show portrayed a local bar scene where people went not simply to interact with Sam, Woody, Norm and others, but to find a place where “troubles are all the same,” a place where you can find a friend and be accepted.

A few years ago, I actually heard this familiar sitcom used as an illustration for the Church. Is this a good way of thinking about Church? The illustration poses for us some important questions: What is the Church? Why does it exist? What is its purpose? What makes the Church distinct? What does it mean to be a part of the Church or to be the Church?

Like the above illustration, some believe that the Church is simply a voluntary organization of like-minded individuals who strive together to achieve moral purposes. But is the Church a gathering of people who want to feel like they belong to something? Is the Church just a place where people go to find a friend or acceptance? Furthermore, is the Church like a restaurant where people go because they like what is served? Living in a culture that highly values individualism, consumerism and being satisfied, the Church is in danger of losing its identity and sense of purpose.

If the Church is not a country club, a voluntary organization or a group of like-minded individuals, what then is it? Indeed, the Church is something radically different from all of these things! The Church exists for the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Its purpose is to bring Christ to all people (Matthew 28:18–20). Contrary to the belief of some or the misunderstanding of others, the Church does not exist to meet people’s felt needs. Rather, it exists to bring people what they really need—forgiveness, life and salvation in and through Christ Jesus (Luke 24:45–47).

The first Lutherans defined the church as “the assembly of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly.”1 Martin Luther himself wrote, “God’s church is where God’s Word resounds … Wherever the Word is heard, where Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar and Absolution are administered, there you must determine and conclude with certainty; ‘This is surely God’s house; here heaven has been opened’.”2 The Church is also the gathering of believers around the cross of Christ or, as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession puts it, “the living body of Christ.”3

Today many people, even Christians, feel no real need to belong to a church. For these folks, the Church with its rituals and hypocritical members is nothing but an empty shell that cannot meet one’s real spiritual needs. Others view the Church as a nice place to go once in a while, but unessential to their faith. Furthermore, Christians influenced by our individualistic society are losing the sense of what it means to be the living body of Christ, the Church.

This summer, our Sunday morning adult Bible class will be undertaking a study titled “Community: We Are Not Alone.” During this study we will revisit the important questions: What is the Church? Why does it exist? What is its purpose? What does it mean to be the Church?

We confess that the “Church is not measured by personal taste or sincere spirituality; rather, the Church is where our crucified and risen Lord Jesus lives and gives His abundant gifts.”4 Join us on Sunday mornings at 10:30 in the Fellowship Hall as we discover or rediscover together “the richness and joy that is found in the Lord’s Church alone and the life that is lived there together as Christians in community.”5

  1. Martin Luther, “Lectures on Genesis Chapters 26–30” in Luther's Works (Concordia Publishing House, 1968), 244
  2. Philip Melanchthon, The Augsburg Confession (1530), VII, 1
  3. Philip Melanchthon, Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), VII/VIII, 12
  4. Naomichi Masaki, “Community: We Are Not Alone” in Lutheran Spirituality: Life as God’s Child (Concordia Publishing House, 2010), 218
  5. Ibid., 218

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at or at 970-305-2420.