Gene Veith reported on a study that attempted to quantify the good that churches do to the larger community and country by their work.
Religious institutions have a greater impact on the U.S. economy than many large corporations, the authors of a new study have claimed. Dr. Brian Grim of Georgetown University and his daughter, Melissa Grim, of the Newseum Institute argue in a 31-page summary of the study – the first of its kind – that religious institutions and their associated ministries contribute as much as $378 billion directly to the economy. Those dollars — more than Apple, Google and Facebook combined — when multiplied across the economy, have an indirect and induced impact larger than Mexico’s entire gross domestic product ($1.44 trillion).
The Socio-economic Contribution of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis examines “the economic impact of 344,000 religious congregations around the country, in addition to quantifying the economic impact of religious institutions and religion-related businesses,” a news release about the study said. Religious spending, the authors claim, is especially resilient and somewhat immune from downturns in the economy because churches, religiously-affiliated hospitals, and religious schools continue to operate and spend money. In fact, in spite of the recession and sluggish economy since 2008, religious spending on congregations and social programs has increased three-fold in the past 15 years.Without the benefit of hard data, any thinking person would have come to a similar conclusion. You take some 345,000 congregations, accounting for nearly half of the American population, with an average house of worship having an income of about $242,000 per year, and you have a big impact.
"For the first time, we have been able to quantify what religious institutions, faith-based charities, and even businesses inspired by faith contribute to our country," Dr. Grim said.
As gratifying as it is to have someone quantify the impact of churches upon the community and country, it is perilous to define our impact in economic terms. Yes, there is an income and expenditures largely return this income back to the community (or world in the case of missions) but that should not be taken as the sum total of the good that churches do or even the kind of good impact made.
My own parish sends out more than two dozen W-2s each year from church staff and the preschool. We pray utilities and a mortgage. We purchase custodial supplies and pay for maintenance. Every church does this to one degree or another. But that is not the good we do. The good we do is directly tied to the way we speak the Gospel to those around us, extend the love of Christ to those in need, educate and care for those who belong to our congregation, and provide a place where our people encounter the living Christ where He has promised to be in Word and Sacrament. In other words, the greatest good we do is still unquantifiable and unmeasurable EXCEPT by Him who sends forth His Word and receives back the return He intends and creates. Until then we can defend the role of church as giver and not simply receiver but we trust that God will define and measure the good that proceeds from the Church He has established. Sometime we get to see the growth first hand (we received ten new families a few weeks ago) but most of the time we are more concerned with our faithfulness and we trust that God will supply the results if we are faithful in preaching and teaching the Word of God and administering His Sacraments.