The Economic Value of a Church: Surprising Reality

 

Many churches looking to impact their communities via multisite locations or church planting are often faced with the dilemma of not just identifying a suitable place to meet, but being able to navigate issues associated with the local governmental authorities.  This is particularly true when searching for space in an urban environment or where a facility is currently on the tax rolls.  Many cities only see tax revenue that a property can generate and get their feathers ruffled when an organization might threaten their income stream.  This is too often the case with politicians that are not familiar with the study of economics as well as the “cause and effect” of industries, businesses, and other organizations to the overall economic impact.

If you have ever lived in a community that was thinking about a professional sports franchise, you have undoubtedly heard the pundits talk about all the tax breaks the city is providing the ownership group, coupled with a retort as to the incredible economic benefit the new stadium or arena will bring to the region.  Increase in hotels reservation.  Visitors using the airport and other transportation mediums.  Increase traffic in restaurants and bars. Other organizations that will rent the arena for non-sporting events.  Etc, etc, etc.

Well, what about a church?  What is its economic impact on a community?  Most do not pay any form of taxes…property or sales tax. So how can it help your community economically?  All they do is ask for donations.

Jim Tomberlin and I are working on a new book for Rainer Publishing addressing many of the real estate and facility issues that multisite churches and church planters face and need to be cognizant of.  As part of our research, we found some very interesting data that was compiled to quantify the economic value that a church brings to a community. Interesting stuff.

A couple years ago, a University of Pennsylvania professor and a national secular research group based in Center City Philadelphia, took up that seemingly unanswerable question. With a list they devised of 54 value categories, they attempted to calculate the economic “halo effect” of a dozen religious congregations in Philadelphia – 10 Protestant churches, a Catholic parish, and a synagogue.

They added up the money generated by weddings and funerals, festivals, counseling programs, preschools, elder care. They tallied the salaries of staff and the wages of roofers, plumbers, even snow shovelers. They put dollar signs on intangibles, too, such as helping people find work and teaching children to be socially responsible.

They even measured the diameter of trees on church campuses.

The grand total for the 12 congregations: $50,577,098 in annual economic benefits.  The entire report can be found HERE.

These are very interesting assumptions with a fresh perspective for city officials to consider when evaluate allowing a church to move into another wise tax producing property.  But how do you get this point across to the city leaders?  How do you get them to grasp this and make your case? (HERE is another example that will give you more ammo)

Given the above research as well as our own experiences with hundreds of churches across the country,  your first step may be to send a letter to a city official that you believe you either have access to or have an influencer in your circle of influence that can make an introduction for you.  To help you get started, below is an example of a letter one pastor sent to the mayor in the town where he wanted to launch a multisite campus. Good stuff.

 

SAMPLE LETTER

Mr./Mrs. City Official
Office of City Hall
100 Main Street
Your Town, USA

Dear Mr./Mrs. Official

Greetings from YOUR Church. I hope this note finds you doing well and enjoying the challenges of the job. It’s my hope YOUR CITY flourishes on your watch!

I am writing in hopes of getting fifteen minutes of your time. I’d like to discuss YOUR Church expanding into YOUR CITY.

YOUR Church began nearly X years ago with X people meeting in the living room of a home. Today over XXX people are involved, with an average weekly attendance of over XXX. Three years ago we opened a second site in ANOTHER PART OF YOUR TOWN. We are now prayerfully considering a third location. Given the XX number of YOUR CITY families who are involved at YOUR Church, we are hoping to locate in or near ANOTHER PAERT OF YOUR CITY. We believe this would be a good thing for them and for the city.

Why? Why would I boldly suggest that it would be a win for YOUR CITY to take even more land off the tax base? Because vibrant churches make a catalytic difference in their communities, and that is the kind of church we strive to be.

  • Members at YOUR Church serve. Last year those who attend YOUR Church not only contributed XXXX service hours through church programs, they also donated close to XXX volunteer hours in YOUR CITY AND COMMUNITIES through community programs like: LIST OF OUTREACH AND COMMUNITY PROGRAMS, etc. We would love to see the number of volunteer hours expand. In fact, our Strategic Plan calls for the number to community service hours to grow to XXXXX over the next six years.
  • We challenge men to raise their game. Each Friday morning close to XXX men show up at 6 AM for a high impact gathering that’s part sports bar and part church. Over the course of ninety minutes they are encouraged to be better men – better husbands, fathers, employers, employees, neighbors and friends. Why do we target men? Because men enjoy an outsized influence in the world. When they thrive those around them – e.g., their family and friends – thrive, and when they flail they pull others down with them. We are anxious to expand this program into Waukegan.
  • We focus on families. YOUR Church works to help families thrive. We do this in a variety of ways – e.g., workshops for parents, support groups for new Moms, etc. One of the most unique is A MINITRY, a virtue-based theatrical program for families with children up through fourth grade. Close to five hundred people attend A MINISRY programs at the church, and over the last three years these programs have moved into the public schools. The students, parents, teachers and administrators love it. We are holding one this weekend at XXXX Elementary School. We are anxious to bring A MINISTRY TO YOUR CITY.
  • We bring practical help. Sometimes the help people need is very practical – they need someone to clean their gutters, repair a broken door or fix a window. Our HOGS Team – Hands of God Serving – does that. Small teams provide free minor home repair to those who attend YOUR Church and those who do not. Typically the ones being helped are single moms and the elderly. Sometimes the help people need is financial. Our XXXX benevolence ministry has been quietly helping people pay bills, secure car repairs and move out of crisis mode for since the day the church began.

I could go on. We host support groups for those struggling with grief or moving through divorce. We offer our facilities rent free to groups like AA. We hold free concerts, are an electioneering site, etc. etc. Suffice it to say: we are a church that is trying to make a positive difference.

So why am I telling you this? Why am I selling so hard? Why am I asking for your help? Because so far we have been unable to secure a site that works. A team from the church has been looking for some months. They explored several dozen locations before recommending the AREA OF YOUR CITY area. Subsequently, we’ve spent some time trying to be a part of the redevelopment of the XXX property and explored other options as well. The ideal solution appears to be XXXX – a building that had been vacant for over ten years, but it is zoned in ways that prevent us from moving forward.

We believe we would be a great fit for XXXX and are anxious to move forward. When I shared this with AN INFLUENCIAL PERSON THE CITY OFFICIAL WOULD RESPECT, he encouraged me to write directly to you.

MR./MRS OFFICIAL, two years ago the University of Pennsylvania completed a study on the impact twelve Philadelphia congregations had on the city (http://articles.philly.com/2011-02-01/news/27092987_1_partners-for-sacred-places-congregations-churches ). They added up: 1) the money generated at weddings, funerals, festivals, counseling programs, pre-schools, elder care, etc.; 2) the money poured into the salaries of staff – from pastors to roofers; and 3) they factored in the intangibles such as helping people find work and teaching children to be socially responsible. Their conclusion was that the “halo effect” of the dozen churches was $50,577,098. Fifty million dollars to the good! According to their calculations, the 300 member Episcopal Church was worth $1.65 million and the 7,000 Roman Catholic parish was worth $22.4 million. We cannot promise to match the impact of a 7,000 member congregation, but I think we could be the kind of anchor organization that helps YOUR CITY prosper.

I will call in a day or two to see if it’s possible to meet. I’d like to hear about your vision for YOUR CITY. I’d like to explore ways we might help be a part of bringing that vision to life and I’d like to ask for your help in securing XXXX PROPERTY.

Thanks for reading this.

Press On,

 

YOU

Pastor, YOUR Church