Churches and Halos: Why even atheists should appreciate local churches

Knox United Church, Dorset ON

My longtime ‘summer’ church

What would happen if a local congregation and all the economic and quality of life contributions it represented suddenly disappeared? If a church closed its doors, would anyone notice?

Do churches benefit the general public?

As the percentage of the population with no faith grows, people are more and more wondering about the value of public support through the tax system for churches and other places of worship:

  • Aren’t they really just private clubs?” some wonder.
  • Why should donations to churches receive a charitable tax credit?
  • Why should churches be exempt from paying property taxes?
  • Who cares if a community has a church or not?

Many people pass by churches every day without giving them any thought, and certainly without thinking how they personally benefit from a having a church in their community, whether or not they ever attend it.

CCCC, together with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, several denominations, and Cardus, funded a study just published by Cardus called the Halo Project about local places of worship. The goal was to find out if the value of a local church could be quantified economically so that secular policy analysts and city planners could be convinced of their value.

Communities benefit greatly from churches!

Well, the results of the study are in!

This [study] clearly shows that faith-based groups generate substantial and measurable value for local neighbourhoods…The value of religious congregations to the wider community is somewhere in the order of four to five times of a congregations’ annual operating budget. [Local congregations] are economic engines that not only support local economies but also contribute to the good of all.
Milton Friesen, Cardus

Phase 1 of the study examined ten congregations in the Greater Toronto Area. (Philadelphia, Calgary and Cambridge Ontario have had other studies looking at the same or similar factors). There are plans to raise the number of churches studied to fifty to make the results more robust, but these ten churches already corroborate the results of the identical study done in Philadelphia.

Since public policy treats all religions the same, it was important to include more than just Christian congregations. The study therefore included two Islamic centres in addition to a cross-section of Christian denominations: Pentecostal, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, United and an independent church.

The ten congregations contributed a total of $45 million of economic value to the city based on a combined operating budget of only $10 million. In simple terms, the dollar value of having a church in a community is about 4.5 times its annual budget. The difference between what the church actually spends compared to the value that it provides is called the “halo effect.”

The study examined 41 commonly used economic and market indicators such as are used to measure the financial contribution special events might make to a host city or province.

The economic benefits include:

  1. Outside space – parks, playgrounds, parking, recreation
  2. Direct spending on operations, capital projects etc.
  3. Education – nursery, day care, schools
  4. Magnet affect – drawing people into the area for events and life celebrations
  5. Direct impact – suicide prevention, job hunting, addiction recovery programs, health promotion, youth civic engagement, immigrant support etc.
  6. Community development – housing initiatives, job training, lending programs
  7. Social capital and care – space for social programs to operate from, volunteering, in-kind support
Download discussion guide

Download discussion guide

The public benefit of advancing religion

The Halo Project is a critical part of the case for demonstrating the public benefit of advancing religion. Churches wanting to contribute more to the good of their communities will find this report a great resource for ideas of how they could do that.

The Halo Project report is being heavily promoted by Cardus to municipalities and other levels of government. You are invited to make use of it in any way you can.

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