The Bible uses a wide range of metaphors to describe the church. These include:
Family of God the Father (Ephesians 3:14-15,2 Corinthians 6:18)
Brothers and sisters with each other in God's family (Matthew 12:49-50)
Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:31-32)
Branches on a vine (John 15:5)
Olive tree (Romans 11:17-24)
Field of crops (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)
Building (1 Corinthians 3:9)
Harvest (Matthew 13:1-30,John 4:35)
New temple and new priesthood with a new cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-8)
God's house (Hebrews 3:3-6)
Pillar and foundation the truth (1 Timothy 3:15)
Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)
14 Points to recognize a church
According to the New Testament, the earliest Christians did not build church buildings. Instead, they gathered in homes (Acts 17:5, 20:20, 1 Corinthians 16:19) or in Jewish worship places like the Second Temple or synagogues (Acts 2:46, 19:8). The earliest archeologically identified Christian church is a house church (domus ecclesiae), the Dura-Europos church, founded between 233 and 256. In the second half of the 3rd century AD, the first purpose-built halls for Christian worship (aula ecclesiae) began to be constructed. Although many of these were destroyed early in the next century during the Diocletianic Persecution, even larger and more elaborate church buildings began to appear during the reign of the Emperor Constantine the Great.
The Frauenkirche in Munich is a largely Gothic, medieval church.
From the 11th through the 14th centuries, a wave of cathedral-building and construction of smaller parish churches occurred across Western Europe. Besides serving as a place of worship, the cathedral or parish church was frequently employed as a general gathering-place by the communities in which they were located, hosting such events as guild meetings, banquets, mystery plays, and fairs. Church grounds and buildings were also used for the threshing and storage of grain.
Between 1000 and 1200 the romanesque style became popular across Europe. While the term "Romanesque" refers to the tradition of Roman architecture, the trend in fact appeared throughout Western and Central Europe. The romanesque style is defined by large and bulky edifices that are typically made up of simple, compact, sparsely decorated geometric structures. Frequent features of the Romanesque church include circular arches, round or octagonal towers and cushion capitals on pillars. In the early romanesque era, coffering on the ceiling was fashionable, while later in the same era, groined vault gained popularity. Interiors widened and the motifs of sculptures took on more epic traits and themes.
Las Lajas Sanctuary in southern Colombia.
The Gothic style emerged around 1140 in Île-de-France and subsequently spread throughout Europe. Gothic churches lost the compact qualities of the romanesque era and decorations often contained symbolic and allegorical features. The first pointed arches, rib vaults and buttresses began to appear, all possessing geometric properties that reduced the need for large, rigid walls to ensure structural stability. This also permitted the size of windows to increase, producing brighter and lighter interiors. Nave ceilings became higher and pillars and steeples grew taller. Many architects used these developments to push the limits of structural possibility, an inclination which resulted in the collapse of several towers possessing designs that had unwittingly exceeded the boundaries of soundness. In Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain, it became popular to build hall churches, a style in which every vault would be built to the same height.
Gothic cathedrals were lavishly designed, as in the romanesque era, and many share romanesque traits. However, several also exhibit unprecedented degrees of detail and complexity in decoration. The Notre-Dame de Paris and Notre-Dame de Reims in France, as well as the San Francesco d’Assisi in Palermo, and the Salisbury Cathedral and Wool Church in England demonstrate the elaborate stylings characteristic of Gothic cathedrals.
Some of the most well-known gothic churches remained unfinished for centuries, after the gothic style fell out of popularity. The construction of the Cologne Cathedral, which was begun in 1248, halted in 1473, and not resumed until 1842 is one such example.
In the 15th and 16th century, the change in ethics and society due to the Renaissance and the Reformation also influenced the building of churches. The common style was much like the gothic style, but in a simplified way. The basilica was not the most popular type of church anymore, but instead hall churches were built. Typical features are columns and classical capitals.
In Protestant churches, where the proclamation of God's Word is of special importance, the visitor's line of view is directed towards the pulpit.
The baroque style was first used in Italy around 1575. From there it spread to the rest of Europe and to the European colonies. During the baroque era, the building industry increased heavily. Buildings, even churches, were used as indicators for wealth, authority and influence.The use of forms known from the renaissance were extremely exaggerated. Domes and capitals were decorated with moulding and the former stucco-sculptures were replaced by fresco paintings on the ceilings. For the first time, churches were seen as one connected work of art and consistent artistic concepts were developed. Instead of long buildings, more central-plan buildings were created. The sprawling decoration with floral ornamentation and mythological motives raised until about 1720 to the rococo era.
The Protestant parishes preferred lateral churches, in which all the visitors could be as close as possible to the pulpit and the altar.