Originally the Greek word we translate “church” meant an assembly of citizens, called out to conduct public affairs. In the NT the word identifies all believers everywhere, as well as local groups of believers who come together as God’s people. This sense of a “people called together” is important in the NT.
“Church” is never used in the Bible of a place or building. For the first 120 years of the Christian era there were in fact no “churches.” Believers gathered in homes or out of doors or, in times of persecution, in caves. They did not construct buildings.
What is unique about the NT concept of “church” is that the word always focuses our attention on people: on believers who are called together to experience a unique relationship with God and each other.
Ephesians gives us three images to help us understand the church. The church as a body emphasizes our calling to be ministering to people, who continue Christ’s ministry to others inside and outside the fellowship of believers. The church as a family emphasizes our calling to be a loving community, rich with supportive relationships in which individuals can grow to maturity. The church as temple emphasizes our calling to be holy community, a beacon of light shining in a sin-darkened world.
How important that we view the church and our churches as God does, placing his priority on ministering to and loving our brothers and sisters. When we understand that the church is people, our commitment to Christ is given a very different focus from that of those who mistakenly see the church as buildings or programs or other constructions of mere men.