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September 15, 2016; Washington Post
We usually place a monetary value on various sectors of the nonprofit world by the amount they raise each year. Taken as a whole, charitable giving accounts for of GDP. Of that amount ($373.35 billion given in 2015), 71 percent ($268.28 billion) is given by individuals, and 32 percent of all giving is given to religious organizations, followed by education (15 percent), human services (12 percent), and so on.
But it turns out that religion is far better for the national economy than previously thought and multiple times greater than what the giving statistics would suggest. For the first time, a study published last Wednesday puts the dollar value of organized religion in the U.S. conservatively at $1.2 trillion. The catchy message emerging from this analysis is that “religion contributes more to the U.S. economy than Facebook, Google, and Apple combined.”
The Socio-economic Contribution of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis,” found in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, indicates that the revenues of faith-based organizations are $378 billion annually. Churches, hospitals, schools, charities, gospel musicians, and even halal food makers are included in their analysis. But the researchers demonstrated restraint. Their analysis does not include the value of financial or physical assets held by religious groups, Christmas shopping, revenues of faith-linked businesses such as Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A, religious blockbuster movies, and so on. They admit there are limitations to the study, which they discuss at length along with “possible lines of research that could build upon and extend this research.”
The largest chunk of that $378 billion tally comes from faith-based healthcare systems. Religious groups run many of the hospitals in the United States; Catholic health systems alone reportedly account for one-in-six hospital beds in the country. Then there are churches and congregations themselves. Based on prior censuses of U.S. bodies of worship, the Grims looked at 344,894 congregations, from 236 different religious denominations (217 of them Christian, and others ranging from Shinto to Tao to Zoroastrian). Collectively, those congregations count about half the American population as members. The average annual income for a congregation, the study said, is $242,910. Most of that income comes from members’ donations and dues, meaning Americans give $74.5 billion to their congregations per year,