Faith communities have a lot to offer to society and to the common good.
How do you measure a city’s social infrastructure?
Any city’s social infrastructure includes several factors. Key among them would be local religious congregations. It has long been known in Canada that churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples have social, spiritual, and communal value. But what if we could measure the value of what they contribute to the common good in their neighbourhoods and communities? That is the jumping off point The Halo Project.
Inspired by similar research in the United States, the Halo Project began to examine and measure how religious congregations fare as economic catalysts. The first phase of this research examined 10 local congregations in Toronto. What we found was that those congregations all make significant common good contributions that have remarkable economic value when measured by traditional economic development tools.
But just how much economic good do those congregations do?
The 10 congregations we looked at in Toronto spend a little more than $9.5 million per year in their direct budgets. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The actual common good value those congregations produce, their “halo effect”, through weddings, artistic performances, suicide prevention, ending substance abuse, housing initiatives, job training – and a whole host of other areas that make cities so much more livable – is estimated to be more than $45 million per year.
Every dollar a congregation spends could create $4.77 worth of service a city does not have to provide.
Applying that ratio just to the 220 parishes of the Roman Catholic archdiocese in Toronto yields a potential annual contribution of $990 million in common good services, and this represents only one religious tradition. The full impact of all religious congregations in Toronto would be staggering.
How did we come to our conclusions?
Through the fall of 2015 and spring of 2016, The Halo Project performed an initial study of ten local congregations in Toronto. Data were collected through interviews and self-reporting made by senior clergy, lead administrators, and key lay leaders. The results of this phase of research suggest that economic valuation of local congregations is possible within the Canadian context.
Subsequent study and further refinements in methodology are needed to offer further validation, and potentially lead to a more streamlined means of helping municipalities and congregations assess the “halo effect” in their particular settings. The ratio of budget spending to public good value may vary across congregational types, sizes, community types and sizes, or other variables that have not been captured in the initial pilot study.