Recently I wrote a blog post entitled, Spiritual Abuse: 10 Ways to Spot it. While I'm not an expert on spiritually abusive churches or ministries, I've had my share of negative experiences, some bordering on abuse.

As I read through the comments, I saw a lot of hurting people, some of whom have left church because of the pain. Couple that with high-profile pastors leaving their churches and the fact that more and more people are emigrating away from traditional church, and we find we're in a bit of a conundrum about church. What is it? Why is it necessary? Why bother? Isn't everything church? Or nothing at all? Is attendance required for a Christ follower?

When we church planted in southern France a few years ago, we ran into an interesting obstacle. Some folks believed that any sort of gathering was "church." If we hung out, we were having church. If we went to a concert, church. If we walked down the street and ran into another Christian, that was church, too. If that is true, why bother with the local congregation?

Bill Hybels has said, "The local church is the hope of the world, and its future rests primarily in the hands of its leaders." The best way to see converts, missiologist C. Peter Wagner tells us, is to plant a church. He wrote, "Church planting is the best methodology of evangelism under the sun." Church erupted from a Holy Spirit-shaking prayer room in the second chapter of Acts, and it spread like the dickens to every remote corner of the earth. Jesus tells Peter he'll build his church on the rock of Peter's belief.

And yet I run into people who no longer attend, who mimic my friends in France, who believe hanging out is enough.

The New Testament uses the Greek word Ecclesia to describe our local congregation. ...

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