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A local church is a Christian religious organization that meets in a particular location. Many are formally organized, with constitutions and by-laws, maintain offices, are served by pastors or lay leaders, and, in nations where this is permissible, often seek non-profit corporate status. Local churches often relate or affiliate with denominations, connecting them with a specific tradition within the Christian religion, sharing in a broad sense a history, culture and doctrinal heritage with other church bodies of the same tradition.
A local church may be an independently run congregational church and may be associated with other similar congregations in a denomination or convention, as are the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention or like German or Swiss Landeskirchen. It may be united with other congregations under the oversight of a council of pastors as are Presbyterian churches. It may be united with other parishes under the oversight of bishops, as are Methodist, Anglican, and Eastern churches. Finally, the local church may function as the lowest subdivision in a large, global hierarchy under the leadership of one priest, such as the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Such association or unity is a church's ecclesiastical polity.
Among congregational churches, since each local church is autonomous, there are no formal lines of responsibility to organizational levels of higher authority. Deacons of each church are elected by the congregation. In some Baptist congregations, for example, deacons function much like a board of directors or executive committee authorized to make important decisions, although these congregations typically retain the right to vote on major decisions such as purchasing or selling property, large spending and the hiring or firing of pastors and other paid ministers. In many such local churches, the role of deacons includes pastoral and nurturing responsibilities. Typically, congregational churches have informal worship styles, less structured services, and may tend toward modern music and celebrations.
Local churches united with others under the oversight of a bishop are normally called "parishes", by Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran communions. Each parish usually has one active parish church, though seldom and historically more than one. The parish church has always been fundamental to the life of every parish community, especially in rural areas. For example, in the Church of England, parish churches are the oldest churches to be found in England. A number are substantially of Anglo-Saxon date and all subsequent periods of architecture are represented in the country. Most parishes have churches that date back to the Middle Ages. Thus, such local churches tend to favor traditional, formal worship styles, liturgy, and classical music styles, although modern trends are common as well.
Local parishes of the Roman Catholic Church, like episcopal parishes, favor formal worship styles, and still more traditional structure in services. The importance of formal office is also a distinctive trait; thus a solemn mass may include the presence of officers of the Knights of Columbus as an escort for the regional bishop when he is present. Likewise, vestments are valued to inculcate the solemnity of the Holy Eucharist and are typically more elaborate than in other churches.
A local church may also be a mission, that is a smaller church under the sponsorship of a larger congregation, a bishop, or a greater church hierarchy. Often congregational churches prefer to call such local mission churches "church plants."
A local church may also work in association with parachurch organizations. While ParaChurch Organizations/Ministries are vital to accomplishing specific missions on behalf of the church they do not normally take the place of the local church. Ministries, Bible Studies and other such Parachurch partnerships may be seen as beneficial and as a great means of personal growth and effective ministry but without superseding (in priority and commitment) the local body of Christ.
Local church vs. denomination
The word denomination is sometimes used as a synonym of local church. Sometimes, however, denomination is used to mean the whole tradition to which the local church belongs. So, for example, some writers refer to the United Methodist Church as a denomination, while others refer to Methodism as a denomination. For this reason, many scholars in the disciplines of Theology and Religious Studies prefer to speak in the following manner: a religion is a broad movement, sharing a common world view and some doctrinal and philosophical positions, a tradition is a movement within a religion, a church body a physical manifestation of a tradition and a congregation a local gathering of believers who belong to the church body.
- The Local Churches
- Ecclesia (church)
- Ecclesiastical polity
- Congregational church
- Simple church
- Early centers of Christianity
- Welcome to the Congregational Church of North Barnstead, UCC. - "We are an informal congregation that gathers for worship" - Congregational Church of North Barnstead. Retrieved 18 April 2012.
- Guilden Morden Congregational Church - "A good meeting for those who prefer a more informal kind of service, and perhaps for those who are less familiar with church events." - www.guildenmordencongregationalchurch.com. Retrieved 18 April 2012.