What is a church? Does a ladies bible study count as church? Does a men's bible study count as church? Does a 1-2-1 take the place of church? What about a home group?
Giving a definition of church is always risky, and invariably incomplete, but here's my stab at it; Church is God's people gathered together round his word putting it to work in one anothers lives.
But there is so much more to church than just that one sentence conveys, (Eph 2) would tell us it is made up of different people united together by the gospel. (Eph 4)Teaches us it is where God has gifted some to train others using his word for works of service. Hebrews would tell us it is where we meet together to encourage one another, and so on.
Yet in our day confusion reigns about what church is and what matters. Why does that matter? Because how we think of church will impact the priority we give to God's people.
A 1-2-1 is not church - I guess that seems blindingly obvious but it needs to be said. A 1-2-1 is great and a real spur to discipleship and I'd encourage everyone to be in one but not instead of being with God's people as they gather together.
What about a bible study? Well I guess it depends on the bible study. I don't think a men's or women's bible study reflects the nature of God dividing the walls of societies conventions through the gospel. Furthermore how can children be taught in such a setting, how is it open to outsiders so that they may come in and see the wonder of God as Paul assumes they may well do in 1 Cor 14. How are people serving one another in that setting? It falls short of being the glorious image of God's church that he provides for us in Ephesians.
What about the person who says I'm in church but hearing the bible taught doesn't matter? I think Paul would challenge that, Ephesians 4:11-12 God gives gifts so that his word is taught and applied to the lives of his people, who then activate it in their daily living. Listening to an MP3 is not the same - if its all you can get use it - you are not able to discuss it and pray for one another in the light of God's word as you are when sitting under God's word with fellow believers. Church is at root gospelling one another relationally in response to God's word.
Church can look different, it can be a house church, it can be in a coffee shop, it can be on a Thursday night, it can be all those things and hundred more. But it is God's people united round his word, drawn from different backgrounds, displaying the wonderful uniting power of the gospel as they meet together and serve one another, encourage one another and love one another.
We seem to be living in a generation when we have to prove to people the value of meeting together with God's people, when we have to fight hard to remind people of the value of relationships. But I think we have got the question the wrong way round; it isn't why would I go to church? But why on earth wouldn't I?