FALL 2016 | We all know the contributions that religious congregations make to the cultural, spiritual, and social lives of their surrounding neighbourhoods. Communities of faith and places of worship are where people often gather to explore why we’re here, where we belong, what’s wrong, and what the meaning of life is. Similar to the way the arts are known to positively influence communities, the influence of local worshipping communities is felt even by those who would not call themselves religious. Faith communities benefit both their members and those who are not directly involved in them.
Yet few studies consider the economic impact these congregations provide directly to their surrounding communities. The lack of “hard numbers,” and the quantitative methods needed to produce them, puts congregations and religious organizations at a disadvantage when pressed to “prove” their value in a context that demands such proof. Congregations lack a common language or “currency” when speaking of value with those who are not a part of the congregations themselves. In a secular age, where dollars and cents are the lingua franca, a tool that measures the contributions congregations make to their local economies is a great help in translating the importance of faith communities.
Congregations, and the neighbourhoods in which they find themselves, are not the only groups that stand to benefit from such a tool.
Cities also benefit. Identifying a tool that can articulate the previously hidden economic contributions of local congregations can significantly strengthen the capacity of city planners and elected officials to further strengthen investment, reduce duplication of services, and initiate creative partnerships with communities of faith to better serve the needs of all city residents.
Through the fall of 2015 and spring of 2016, Cardus and its partners studied ten local congregations in the city of Toronto. The study, based on a modification of an earlier study in Philadelphia, measured the economic contributions of a church’s open space, its educational programs, the social capital and care it provides, and other factors. The results showed that churches don’t just shine a light on their members, but that their activities have a “halo effect” that sheds light (and gold) on the rest of the city. How much? The study estimates a cumulative economic impact of approximately $45 million. It’s not the final word, of course, but it does suggest that churches are a more important part of what makes a good city than the curricula of most planning schools would suggest.
To read the full report and learn more, visit haloproject.ca