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The Halo Effect of Sacred Spaces

 

In the original blue zones, all but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Research shows that attending faith-based services just four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy—and denomination doesn’t seem to matter. “People who pay attention to their spiritual side have lower rates of cardiovascular disease, depression, stress, and suicide, and their immune systems seem to work better … To a certain extent, adherence to a religion allows them to relinquish the stresses of everyday life to a higher power,” says Dan Buettner, Blue Zones founder and National Geographic Fellow.

In the original blue zones, all but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Click To Tweet

Sacred Spaces & Their Impact on Local Communities

In the last few decades, there has been a boom in research surrounding the impact that sacred spaces have on the local communities that host them. In addition to the spiritual benefits that are often associated with sacred spaces, researchers have begun to explore the impact that these spaces have on the people that they surround.

In addition to the spiritual benefits that are often associated with sacred spaces, researchers have begun to explore the impact that these spaces have on the people that they surround. Click To Tweet

Partners for Sacred Places pioneered a new approach to quantifying congregations’ public value and economic significance, called The Halo Effect. This methodology resulted from their research developments over the past decades.

In 1996, Partners for Sacred Spaces partnered with The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice, along with Dr. Ram Cnaan, the school’s director. With financial backing from the Lilly Endowment and other supporters, their first scientific study sought to quantify the economic value of religious congregations and their contributions to local communities surrounding them.

Partners and team discovered that congregations in urban settings contributed, on average, more than $140,000 per year in economic value through charitable acts of service, donations to community programs, and available space below the market rate. They also found that four in five people who visit sacred spaces benefit from the congregation’s program offerings more than actual members. 

While the study provided a fresh perspective on the subject, it lacked in-depth quantifiable evidence on how congregations impacted their communities. This is the missing gap that later research of theirs helped to fill.

Results from The Continuation of Their Research Studies

In their 2010 study, Partners’ research findings centered on 12 Philadelphia-based congregations. Their research revealed that the congregations’ contributions to annual economic value totaled close to $52 million in their communities. The evidence resulted in Partners deeming local congregations as ‘critical economic catalysts’.

Congregations were evaluated on over 50 different factors, including:

  • Open space 
  • Direct spending 
  • Education 
  • Magnet effect 
  • Individual impacts 
  • Community development
  • Social capital and care

Partners for Sacred Spaces released another study in 2016 that expanded on previous research. Called “The Economic Halo Effect of Historic Sacred Places,” the study was a collaborative effort between Partners, Dr. Cnaan, and the University of Pennsylvania. 

The Lilly Endowment once again funded the study along with the McCormick Foundation, which allowed Partners and team to include a more significant number of congregations. Ninety congregations based in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Fort Worth, were selected at random to participate. 

Their aim was to fully measure the economic value and community impact of America’s historic churches and synagogues. In the end, their efforts were proven successful. Partners reported that the average sacred space in an urban setting annually generates over $1.7 million in economic impact. 

Out of all of their previous studies, this newer evidence proved that sacred places deserve recognition as de facto community centers that significantly take charge of local housing and community service needs. Partners also found that nearly 90 percent of individuals who benefitted from congregation-hosted programs came from the larger community, and weren’t members of the actual congregation. 

Newer evidence proved that sacred places deserve recognition as de facto community centers that significantly take charge of local housing and community service needs. Click To Tweet

A separate study by Dr. Michael Wood Daly of the University of Toronto touched heavily on the aforementioned findings. It highlighted the “economic value” of ten congregations based in Toronto, Ontario. According to his research, the congregations had an estimated economic value of $45 million that stemmed from a collective budget of only $10 million. Also referred to in the study as the “halo effect,” it represented the church’s economic value in the community through:

  • Social capital 
  • Physical resources
  • Community services
  • Infrastructure

“Individual impact” reportedly had a Halo Effect (or value) of over $22 million, making it the greatest standalone value add. This category measured the church’s impactfulness on critical issues, such as:

  • Crime prevention 
  • Suicide prevention
  • Employment assistance 
  • Recovery from substance abuse 
  • Immigration assimilation
  • Counseling
  • Education

In conclusion, collective research on the Economic Halo Effect has validated Partners’ claims of the considerable civic value of sacred places, due to their efforts to serve underprivileged populations, support local businesses, and strengthen neighborhoods.

On average, congregations employ six part-time and five full-time staff members. They generally get their goods and services from local vendors and small businesses, further contributing to the sustainability of their community’s economic ecosystems.

Partners for Sacred Spaces is currently furthering their research beyond urban congregations. They’re using knowledge obtained through previous studies to assess the halo effect of churches in rural or smaller churches. Further studies will soon be made available to the public.

The Importance of The Halo Effect Today

Churches, mosques, synagogues, and other faith-based centers are where people come together to serve a higher power, love others, and build community. But what happens when it doesn’t feel like a welcoming home for its members? Where are they feeling the most disconnected? And how can we make our sacred spaces more welcoming to everyone?

The aftermath of the Economic Halo Effect’s release has been met with a dedication to further bridge the gap between sacred spaces and their communities. Partners for Sacred Places have extended their wealth of knowledge and resourceful staff members, in an effort to teach communities how to leverage their sacred place’s halo effect. The resources that they offer range from halo assessments to consulting services in the areas of space sharing, fundraising, community outreach, and building maintenance.

The Economic Halo Effect of Sacred PlacesSM, a product of the available research, is a tool used to measure the economic impact of sacred spaces across the country. 

Partners of Sacred Spaces have worked with many congregations affiliated with the National Fund for Sacred Spaces to advance their goals. Overall, they are committed to helping congregations realize their value and better justify it to their members and larger communities.

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