Do you think that a local church has any aura or effect on the local community? While some congregations seem mostly invisible, others are known by their neighbours and would be missed if they were gone. You cannot measure a congregation’s significance only by its effectiveness, but it is fair to ask whether your church is making a difference to anyone. Is there an aura about the people and place that make up your place of worship?
In 2011, a study was conducted by ‘Partners for Sacred Places’ and Dr. Ram Cnaan of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. They set out to measure how congregations impact local economies. What can be measured and quantified in understanding the value of a congregation on its community? They studied 10 Protestant churches, 1 Catholic and 1 Jewish synagogue. These 12 congregations had a combined economic impact of over $50 million per year. They called this ‘The Halo Effect’.
There were 54 value categories that were measured in each setting. These included wages, contractors, snow removal, programs that serve the community, youth behavioural affects, preventing divorce, suicide, housing community groups, etc. Both tangible and intangible effects were quantified. ‘What is the dollar value of a marriage saved? A suicide averted? An addiction conquered? A teenager taught right from wrong? In short: What is a church's economic worth to the community it serves?’
Congregations are important employers; purchasers of local goods and services; magnets for bringing in cash, volunteer time and other resources from outside the city; and providers of important value through the ‘invisible safety net’ of programs and services that help individuals and families be productive workers and citizens… For those wanting to strengthen commercial corridors, understanding the flow of people from a congregation and how they support local business, or how congregations incubate small ventures is critical. Some congregations have significant green space and trees; in effect they manage mid-size urban parks that contribute the economic and environmental well being of the city and region.
This may be a good reason for churches to remain exempt from property taxes. Our presence may have a bigger influence than we can see. We do not need to place a halo on our self-portrait, but perhaps others will see our good works and notice the halo effect brought about by the physical presence of God at work in His people. Perhaps God will be noticed because we take care of people, love each other and respectfully care for creation in our context.