Why are churches important?

Today there are many wonderfully important institutions and associations, ones that bless and enrich our lives tremendously. Yet it is remarkable to think that Jesus established one in particular, the church. (Matt 16:18-19)

Two thousand years later, the world is full of local churches. Not full enough, we hasten to add — but still, we are amazed at what the Lord Jesus has accomplished.

But what does a local church have to offer modern Americans? More than we might think.

Consider the “economic halo” effect, which calculates a church economic value to its community. A financial calculation of a church’s worth might seem strange, but a church’s impact might include suicides averted, addictions conquered, marriages saved, jobs found, and more — and each of these have a positive financial impact.

University of Pennsylvania professor Ram Cnaan attempted to quantify this. With a list of 54 value categories, his team calculated the economic halo effect of a dozen religious congregations in Philadelphia, including ten Protestant churches One church in Mt. Airy has an operating budget of a $265,000, but the study calculated its “halo” at $1.47 million.

And for a gospel-centered church, I believe the figure would be far more than this, if its complete impact were known.

Of course Jesus did not establish the church as a financial investment vehicle for communities, nor should it be reduced to its impact in social services. By contrast, Jesus established the church upon the heels of Peter’s critical profession of faith, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). That is the foundation and heartbeat of the church. Moreover, its mission follows: “To Know Jesus Christ and Make Him Known” (see Matt 28:18-20).

To the degree that we are faithful to this calling, we will be blessed to see that Jesus change lives!