In the New Testament, the word “church” (gk. ecclesia) literally means “a gathering”. However, believers in Christ are called “church” both when they are gathered for worship and when they are scattered. Therefore, the Bible says that church is both the gathering of believers in Jesus Christ, as well as the believers themselves. The church is not a building or a system but people who worship Jesus both corporately and individually.
The foundation of the church is the confession of Jesus as Christ, Son of God. (Mt.16:16-18) Therefore, the church consists of all those who have believed in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, the Son of God, God in the flesh. In that sense, the church is all believers in Jesus Christ, and there is only one church. (Eph. 4:4)
However, the NT also speaks of different “churches” – that is, specific, local groups of believers in Jesus, who gather under biblical leadership for corporate worship, the preaching God’s Word, the practice of the sacraments and church discipline, and fulfillment of the great commission. Therefore, in the Bible, the word church has 2 meanings: the universal church and the local church. Every believer is a member of the church in the universal sense as soon he believes in the Gospel and is born again. But God also calls every believer to become a member of a local church for edification, growth, mutual service and for the fulfilling of the great commission.
The Bible uses 3 main illustrations for the church: bride, body, family. The church as bride describes our relationship to Jesus directly. The last two illustrations help us to see what the church is in relationship not only to God but also to one another.