First, we need to dispense with a couple of sermon clichés. The word does not mean “called out.” That’s the etymology of the word, but long before the First Century, the meaning had shifted to refer to a gathering, any gathering, even a rioting mob (as in Acts 19:32; note v. 40) (insert here very inappropriate sardonic remark about the Bible’s use of the same word for both “church” and “rioting mob”).
Second, for some reason, countless lessons (for example) make the point that the English word comes from the German kirche, meaning, well, “church” — either the building or the people. (And this is from the Greek κυριακόν (kuriakón) meaning “belonging to the Lord.”) Which is really neither here nor there, because English definitions and etymologies are rarely of much use in interpreting a Bible written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. But it’s interesting. The problem is that such sermons assume that the English translation is somehow in error in using “church.”
All these lessons make the point that the NT uses ekklēsia is to refer to a group of people rather than a building — and yet I don’t think anyone in the history of humanity has ever made that mistake in the reading the NT. I mean, who thinks “The buildings of Christ salute you” would be a sound translation?
We are severely warned against saying “I went to church on Sunday,” because “the church” is the people — which would be true if I were the NT, but as an English-speaking American, it’s not a serious point at all. Besides, if I were to say, “I went to my book club Monday,” they would be referring to a gathering of people, not to the building.
In fact, as someone born and reared in the Churches of Christ, I often give away my heritage by referring to the “church building,” when everyone else just says “church.” A generation older than me was trained to say “meetinghouse” by the same logic.
Most people are very aware that the English “church” may be used of either the people or the building. And there aren’t really any people who find this so confusing that they need a sermon to explain the difference between a building and God’s people. The context is usually plenty clear enough.
If you want to be a growing church, please train your members not to “correct” visitors or, for that matter, members who use “church” correctly according to the rules of standard English to refer to the building or the assembly or the denomination rather than the congregation or the church universal. I mean, no one enjoys being looked down on for calling the auditorium the “sanctuary” or for saying they “attend church.”
In other words, if a visitor calls your preacher the “pastor,” let it go. Don’t write letters to the editor correcting reporter’s referring to your preacher as “pastor.” That never comes across as anything but insufferably sanctimonious. Just quit right now.
Sorry. I just sometimes get frustrated when we spend so much energy making pointless points.
PS — I once served on an architectural design committee for the construction of a new
churchchurch buildingmeetinghouse. I visited countless Baptist church buildingsmeetinghouses, walked through their sanctuariesauditoriums and spoke with their pastorspreachersevangelists about their buildings. And it was just so hard to report to the committee what I’d heard while translating from Baptist-ese to Church of Christ-ese. I mean, I spent as much time correcting my own vocabulary as explaining what I’d learned about churchmeetinghouse architecture.