Sharp About Your Prayers

the challenges, absurdities, and joys of an urban faith

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The Halo Effect

January 4th, 2018 · No Comments · Faith and the City

In late November, I hosted a small group of Presbyterian pastors from across the country. We get together once a year to talk about “best practices” and to support each other’s ministries. We often invite an outside expert or two to address our cohort and expand our horizons.

This year, Robert Jaeger, President of Partners for Sacred Places, joined us. Headquartered in Philadelphia, Partners for Sacred Places studies the role churches (and other religious congregations) play within their local community. The work of this organization is fascinating. One of the eye-opening studies Jaeger presented involves “the economic halo effect” generated by urban congregations.

In 2016, Partners engaged in an in-depth analysis of 90 congregations in Philadelphia, Chicago and Fort Worth. This study (performed together with economists from the University of Pennsylvania) came to the conclusion that every year the average urban church contributes $1.7 million in value to its surrounding community. Large churches contribute considerably more.

How did Partners arrive at this figure?

They studied (among other things):

  • the money parishioners spend on local restaurants, other businesses and parking when visiting the church for worship and programming;
  • the services that the church provides in terms of direct counseling and referrals for individuals and families struggling with a wide range of issues;
  • hotel rentals, florist costs and other small businesses supported by weddings and funerals;
  • direct assistance programs addressing hunger and homelessness;
  • support for other non-profits (partners);
  • the public space the church offers for weekday programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and ESL courses.

“Our research,” says Jaeger, “makes it clear that sacred places are an important part of a local economy.” While economic impact probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think about the value church has for us and for the world, it is eye-opening to have the influence of religious communities described and quantified in this way. If you are curious, I commend to you the full report.

In addition to economic impact, Jaeger also describes something many of us do recognize in our own beloved churches. “Sacred spaces are de facto community centers. They knit together the social fabric of our neighborhoods and cities.”

This Sunday, my friends, we are going to talk about the many different “halo” effects churches have and we are going to talk about evangelism—our challenge to invite more people to embrace the good news of Jesus Christ in sacred community.

See you in worship,


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