In a recent class, the professor suggested that one of the marks of a healthy church is, "if the church closed, would it be felt by the community around it? Would they notice at all? Would it leave a hole in the surrounding community's cultural fabric, or would it barely appear on the collective radar?" This was sobering to ponder. In defining success for a ministry, one aspect to consider is how much its presence is felt in the world. However, I was wary of the professor's tendency to slant this observation in terms of the church's size. There are many ways a church's presence in a community can be felt other than how eye-catching the building might be, how many cars park out front, or how many in the community confess to be attending it.
It would seem that a church's presence in the community can also be felt by how unique a contribution it makes to the life of the community it's in. Does it do, or is it known for, some ministry for the surrounding city or region that no one else does? It does not take a large church to make a significant impact in a community; one that is memorable, felt and appreciated. Hence the slogan, "I am the smallest giant in the world."
When I think about the contributory ministries that our church has engage in during the last year (Adopt-a-Highway, fire chaplaincy, Reformation Day, city "chaplain"), plus the various opportunities for being "present" with the community (Christmas and July 4th parades, Easter carnival, Chamber of Commerce. etc), I am encouraged that Woodcreek Bible Church has indeed made a unique contribution. Its absence would be felt. It is indeed a healthy church in many respects.
Paul hints at this with his "body" metaphors in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. In any given local church, the "body" is strengthened and its mission fulfilled better when each member makes their unique contribution. This is a micro-application of Paul's metaphor. However, a valid macro-application is to see each church as a member of The Body (The Church universal and transcendent). In this way, a local church has as an aspect of its mission to accomplish that which surrounding churches will not. It falls to the respective leaders of those churches to do this with a cooperative spirit, not a competitive one.
For this reason, a church must strive to make its unique contribution to the overall missio Dei. What does this church body do that others were not staffed, equipped and empowered by the Spirit to do? That question cannot easily be answered with an attendance number. On the other hand, any group of believers, led by the Spirit of God, can leave a lasting impact on a community.