Monday, July 3, 2017

The Halo Effect, or What are Places of Worship Really Worth to a Community?

$1.5 billion—that’s how much Winnipeg’s places of worship are worth to the city.

For Steinbach, that figure is almost $134 million. Brandon is $90 million. Morden is $23.6 million, Winkler is $69 million. Portage la Prairie rings in at $31 million.

Those amounts are what’s called the “halo effect,” the value of the social, spiritual and communal capital that places of worship contribute to their communities through various kinds of services, events and activities.

The calculations come from the Halo Project calculator, which calculates the value of places for worship for cities across Canada.

The calculator is proved by Cardus, a think tank based in Ontario. The organization was inspired by studies in the U.S. to do similar research in Canada, starting in Toronto in 2016.

That study of ten congregations found that for every dollar of their direct spending about $4.77 of common good benefit—the “halo effect”—was generated.

Areas where the halo effect was felt included open space, educational programs, magnet effect (drawing people into a community for weddings, funerals, concerts, conferences and other events), individual impact and community development.

Additional value was produced through things such as working with refugees, soup kitchens, helping the homeless, job training, programs to treat substance abuse, programs for children, youth and families, community garden plots, hosting concerts and other events, counselling, recreational activities (gyms and playing fields), operating nursery schools and day cares, and volunteering in the neighbourhood.

"The value of religious congregations to the wider community is somewhere in the order of four to five times of a congregation's annual operating budget,” says Milton Friesen, who is the Social Cities Program Director for Cardus.

“This is money that governments don’t need to spend.”

For example, if a congregation with an annual budget of $250,000 should close, the Halo Project estimates a city or town would need to come up with about $1.2 million every year to replace what was lost to the wider community.

Across Canada, Cardus estimates that places of worship in 19 major cities produce an economic benefit of $19.9 billion. This includes $1.6 billion in Vancouver, $2 billion in Edmonton, $2.2 billion in Calgary, $489 million in Saskatoon, $6.7 billion in Toronto and $2.1 billion in Montreal.

For Friesen, this is a new way for Canadians to look at the value of places of worship. It shows they are “are important parts of the landscape,” and should not be “ignored when calculating the social capital of a community.”

This is especially true for those who think places of worship are getting a free ride when it comes to taxation—that they should pay taxes like any other institution.

“What is not considered is the value to others in the community, and the community itself as a whole,” he says of those who make that argument.

“Imagine what it would cost for cities to replace the value of what churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other places of worship are providing,” he says. “They could never afford it.”

Through the Halo Project, Friesen hopes to spark a “wider conversation about the role of religion in Canada,” including what places of worship offer economically, and to ensure “religion is part of the conversation” when talking about what they contribute to the social good in this country.

“We want to put better information into hands of those making decisions” about ways to serve the various needs of Canadians, he adds.

With many places of worship in danger of closing across the country today—especially ones located in downtown core areas, where some of the biggest social needs exist—the work of the Halo Project shows that if a place of worship closes, much more could be lost than many realize.

Sure, a historic church building might be saved if it is renovated and replaced by condos, but it’s a good bet the new residents won’t include a soup kitchen, youth drop-in or substance abuse clinic in the new building.

To put it another way, maybe the crisis facing organized religion today isn’t just a concern for those who are religious. The Halo Project suggests that all Canadians, including Canada’s politicians, might want to take note.

Find your community's halo effect at

From the June 30 Winnipeg Free Press.

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