What images spring to mind when you read the word church?

  1. an angry preacher ranting about hellfire and damnation to an uptight congregation
  2. a gathering of hypocrites
  3. a boring place to which your parents dragged you as a kid
  4. a group of people who believe they’re right and all those other churches are wrong
  5. the place where Fun goes to die

There is plenty of evidence to support each and every one of those ideas. How many people have been burned and turned off on religion by a bad experience at church? Perhaps you’ve been there yourself—have you ever looked at a church and thought, “if that’s what being a Christian is all about, I want nothing to do with it”?

If you think that “church” is about as far away from God that you can get, you’re in pretty good company. Jesus himself had a lot to say about the churches and organized religion of his day. Talking to a crowd of holier-than-thou church attenders, he didn’t mince words:

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.”

If your experience of the organized church matches Jesus’ words—if you feel there’s not much life behind the neat, orderly exterior—you’re on the right track. Jesus teaches us in the Bible that a true church is not defined by the clothes we wear, the building we meet in, the airs we put on, or the style of music we use to worship. Rather, true church is nothing more, nothing less than the community of people who believe in theGood News. Church—real, meaningful church—takes place when we get together with other people and put into practice the love and joy we’ve received from God. Jesusdescribed this sort of fellowship:

“When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”

Elsewhere in the Bible, we get a picture of the sort of Church that God wants us to be a part of:

“Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.”

Would you like to be part of a community of people who “encourage love” and “help out”? That’s the sort of community that happens when you embrace the Good Newsand connect to other people who share your faith. If you haven’t found a church where that happens, you need to get plugged into a community that takes Jesus seriously.

If you don’t attend a church but want to find out what a loving, accepting community really looks like, read about the Good News and find out what would inspire people to get together to encourage and support one another.