Church History for Kids: What is the Church?

By Jessica Wolstenholm


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The Church is more than the building we go to on Sundays or Wednesdays, it’s the people inside. We know families are having to embrace this now more than ever- from living room worship to online services. Though this season of separation is hard, this is a great time to teach our kids about the early church, which often met in homes. Over the next several weeks on #MinnoLife we’re discussing the history of the church—and how it looked a lot like what we are experiencing today.

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Maybe you’ve never really thought about teaching Church History to your kids before, but we can learn so much about how to be the Church today by learning about how the Church used to be—both when the church first started and as it grew and changed throughout history, in all different times and places. When we study church history, there are so many powerful stories of believers who have done amazing things for the kingdom of God that our kids will be inspired to do great things for the kingdom of God in their own lives. 

Use this post to talk with your kids about what God intended the Church to be and how they can play an important role in the body of Christ.

Do you remember that kids’ song we all learned in Vacation Bible School in the ‘80s and ‘90s? Extra points if you can remember the hand motions, too.

The Church is not a building,

The Church is not a steeple,

The Church is not a resting place,

The Church is the people!

I am the Church, You are the Church, We are the Church together

All who follow Jesus, all around the world. Yes, we’re the Church together!

It may seem like a simple kids’ song, but its words are deeply theological. It says something significant about the Church that many of us have forgotten, or maybe never even knew. The Church isn’t the building we go to on Sundays or Wednesdays or whenever we gather for worship, it’s the people inside.

Today, we use the word “church” to mean a lot of different things. We might say, “we are going to church,” which means we’re going to a worship service. We might say, “let’s meet at the church,” which is talking about the building where we meet for worship services. Or we might talk about The Baptist Church or The Presbyterian Church or The Catholic Church, all of which refer to an institution – an organization that manages what happens in those church buildings and at those worship services. But the word “Church” in the New Testament didn’t refer to a building or a worship service or an institution. The word church simply referred to the group of people who follow Jesus, just like the VBS song says.

The Church is Not a Building

At the very beginning of church history, when the Church first started, there was no such thing as a church building. Groups of Christians met in people’s homes for worship, prayer, teaching, fellowship, and the sacraments (Acts 1:13; Acts 2:46; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:3-5; Colossians 4:15). That’s not to say that having a church building is wrong, but that we don’t need a building to “be the church” or to “have church.” We can meet in a school or a movie theater or our living room or in a field or by a river. It doesn’t matter. Jesus said, “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” (Matthew 18:20). He told the Samaritan woman at the well that in His kingdom, it didn’t matter where you worshiped God, but only that you worshiped in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:21-24).

Church is Not a Worship Service

Not only is the Church not a building, but it’s also not what we do when we’re inside that building. If the Church is the people, then we don’t “go to church,” we ARE the Church. In the New Testament, the word “church” referred to the group of people who followed Jesus whether they were gathered together for worship, prayer, study, and fellowship or not. Church isn’t what we do together on a Sunday or a Wednesday night or whenever we meet. It’s who we are, every day of the week, wherever we are. Whether we’re gathered all together or we’re scattered all over the world. You aren’t “the church” just when you gather together, sing praise songs, read the Bible, and pray together. Or even just when you work together out in the community, like serving at a food bank or doing outreach in your community. You individually are the Church when you listen to a friend who is hurting talk about her struggles. You are the Church when you welcome someone into your home with love and hospitality. You are the Church when you treat a stranger with kindness, when you visit a friend in the hospital, and when you help a neighbor mow their lawn or take in their garbage can. Any time that you live as Jesus would out in the world, you are being the Church.

The Church is Not an Institution

Institutions aren’t bad things. They give us structure and organization. They can help hold people in the church accountable for doing the right thing. They can help make sure that our leaders are well-educated in the Scriptures and teach the right things. They can help bring local groups of Christians together to share resources and do more for the kingdom than they could do on their own. But the word “church” in the New Testament doesn’t refer to an institution. It refers to the people of Jesus, both in a local group and all over the world – the “big C” Church.

The Church is the Body of Christ

In the New Testament, the church isn’t described as an institution, it is described as a body. In the body of Christ, there is no hierarchy or power struggle. Christ alone is the head, all of us are just body parts. Though different parts of the body have different roles, they are all equally important and they all value each other’s roles in the body (1 Corinthians 12:14-18). In the first church, there were leaders and different roles in the church structure, but everyone worked together as a body. There wasn’t a hierarchy; they called themselves “a priesthood of all believers” (1 Peter 2:9). The Apostle Paul wrote that even though he and Peter and other early church leaders were teachers and apostles, really they were nothing. People shouldn’t follow them, but follow Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:5-9; 11:1).

In the body of Christ, every member of the body has to work together, or the body won’t work. In a lot of churches today, they say that only 20% of the members do all of the work. Imagine if only 20% of your body worked! What if your arms and legs decided they’d just lay around and let the rest of the body do all the work? In the first church, there were leaders, but all of the people in the community worked together. They all contributed 100% to the body and they all valued each other’s role in the body (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35).

Why It Matters to Us Today

As the body of Christ, the early church worked together to be His hands and feet in the world. They loved people the way He loved, they served the poor, they did miracles, they preached the Gospel, they prayed and worship and celebrated, they went out far and wide to find the lost. They did everything He would have done if He were there in the flesh. This is the mission of the Church. As the people of Jesus, it is our mission to be the Church – to be His body, to be His hands and His feet in the world.

Family Conversation Starters About the Church

  • In what ways is what we’re experiencing right now more like what Christians in the early church experienced?
  • How can knowing the Church is not the building we gather in encourage us during this time?
  • What are some ways we can BE the Church right now?

Next Post: Where Was the First Church?

Check out the rest of the posts in our series Church History for Kids for more topics and stories!

Where Was the First Church?

What Did the First Churches Look Like?

For great videos about church history for kids, check out The Pirate’s Guide to Church History or The Torchlighters on Minno!