Tell me, “What exactly is the function of the Church?”


by Charlotte Brendel

Our Book of Discipline is clear about why the church exists:

¶ 202.  The Function of the Local Church — The church of Jesus Christ exists in and for the world. It is primarily at the level of the charge consisting of one or more local churches that the church encounters the world. The local church is a strategic base from which Christians move out to the structures of society. The function of the local church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is to help people to accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to live their daily lives in light of their relationship with God. Therefore, the local church is to minister to persons in the community where the church is located, to provide appropriate training and nurture to all, to cooperate in ministry with other local churches, to defend God’s creation and live as an ecologically responsible community, and to participate in the worldwide mission of the church, as minimal expectations of an authentic church.                

Unfortunately, many church people have forgotten why their church exists . . .
In my previous work as a Congregational Vitality Strategist (CVS), and now in my work with the Church Legacy Initiative (CLI), I see churches with little to no vision or plan to move forward. Some church members have expressed their disappointment in any vitality process because “it didn’t work.”  What I have learned is there has been no follow up. When churches participate in a vitality process, it helps to understand this is a long-term process not a one-time-only process. Checking vitality must be on-going. Evaluation must be on-going. Visioning must be on-going. A reminder of why their church exists must be on-going.
When I ask, “Why does the church exist? What makes us different from the Lions Club, the Kiwanis Club, or the Rotary Club?” the response is often blank stares. We all have wonderful fund raisers and do great things for our community and world, but really, what is the difference? There must be a reason why the church exists. Tell me, “What exactly is the function of the Church?” It’s simple. The church exists for the world … encounters the world … “to help people to accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to live their daily lives in light of their relationship with God.” And because this is our function, we reach out to others, make disciples, baptize, teach, and share God’s gift of grace.
People have actually told me their church is in decline because “the conference doesn’t send the right preacher,” or because “the conference doesn’t care about small churches,” et cetera. There is a myriad of reasons their church is in decline. It could be due to changes in the community. For example, I worked with one church that, in its early history, was the center of the town’s activity. It was the original Meeting House for the town. Then something drastic happened. The entire town re-located to another area of the community. However, the church remained in the same place. I worked with another church that, in its earliest beginnings, was considered the Town Church. Later the town completely disappeared. However, the church remained. The Church Legacy Initiative works with many churches who have experienced a variety of changes in their community: population shifts, retiree communities, former mill communities, loss of area businesses, influx of other churches, et cetera.
There is no doubt the community is important to our churches.  When the community drastically changes, the church must change, too. There is also no doubt the church is important to our communities. Remember why we exist? The church exists for the world … encounters the world … “to help people to accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to live their daily lives in light of their relationship with God.” Friends, it’s really not about us. Rather it’s about how we reach out to the world. A vital, healthy church has a relentless outward focus rather than an inward focus.
Tell me, “What exactly is the function of the Church?” In the words of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20). 
Rev. Charlotte G. Brendel is a Team Associate with the Church Legacy Initiative. Rev. Brendel previously served as the Congregational Vitality Strategist (CVS) for the Appalachian and Catawba Valley Districts, and has served churches in Hickory, Morganton, Shelby, and Chattanooga, TN

Resources for Vital Congregations



Lewis Center for Church Leadership

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Books

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Serve Your Neighbor

GBHEM Leadership Resources


Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church

Englewood Book Review

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations

Ted Talks: The Golden Circle

Ted Talks: The Power of Vulnerability

Ted Talks: The Price of Invulnerability

Design Thinking

Meditations on the Ministry of All Christians


Be A Disciple

A Disciple’s Path; A Guide for United Methodist

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Adult Christian Studies from the Wesley Ministry Network

Traveling Together: A Guide for Disciple Forming Congregations


Living As United Methodist Christians

Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials

Reclaiming our Wesleyan Tradition: John Wesley’s Sermons for Today

John Wesley Sermons: Anthology


Get Their Name

Evangelism & Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit

Canoeing the Mountains

Fresh Expressions

Fresh Expressions: Dinner Church

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Reach New Disciples

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: 50 Ways to Reach People

Community: The Structure of Belonging


Institute for Emerging Issues

Congregations 4 Children


The Royce and Jane Reynolds Ministry Fund Grants

The Duke Endowment


The Appalachian District Church Vitality Team has been prayerfully seeking ways to help support you and the ministries of your local congregation during this COVID-19 pandemic. Together they have diligently researched and connected with others throughout the conference and our denomination to identify resources and offer them to you. We hope they will be helpful to you and bless you greatly in leading your churches and communities through this unprecedented time. We are very grateful to the District Vitality Team and other contributors for their great work on this resource.
This faithful team has created three documents, two of which you are receiving today. They include:

  • Family Home Worship – designed to help families establish a regular worship space within their homes as well as a time where they can worship together.
  • Tech Strategies – to help guide you in selecting effective tools and resources within your budget to best communicate in the digital world.

We believe these resources will be of great benefit to you. Also know that the District Vitality Team is available to answer any questions you might have in regards to the documents attached. If you have questions, you may email Rev. Howard Fleming at


  • Resources
Follow Jesus. Make Disciples. Transform the World.