I used to think church was a place/building we went to in order to worship properly our God who is in heaven.
Then, thanks to Dallas Willard, I began to see church as that non-institutional gathering of disciples. The purpose of the gathering is to order our common life around the kingdom of God, with Christ as it’s King at the center. Worship is certainly part of what they do, but not the only thing they do.
As good as that model is, and as radical a shift in thinking and practice it requires, I believe (thanks to Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder, Thomas Kelly, Clarence Jordan, Lee Camp, Shane Claiborne, and others) that Church is an alternative society to the kingdoms of earth. This model goes beyond the “disciple-making schools” that Willard suggests. It certainly involves such disciple-making, but such intentional education is only part of the common life of the community. Clarence Jordan’s Koinonia Farm is a great example. At the height of segregation and racism in the deep south, Clarence Jordan started a community that was intentionally inter-racial. His community stood (in the “belly of the beast”) as a fleshed-out witness to the world that the hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation offered in Christ transcends racial division and animosity. The embodied community is the witness, is the living testimony. That is church.