Economic Halo Effect

A 2016 study by Partners for Sacred Places quantified the economic impact of congregations stewarding older and historic properties.

Economic Halo Effect of Sacred PlacesSM

An economic valuation tool created by Partners for Sacred Places that calculates the “economic halo effect” of congregations. A study, conducted by Partners for Sacred Places with Ram Cnaan, Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, found that the average urban historic sacred place generates over $1.7 million in economic impact annually.

In addition, this research affirms that:

  • Congregations employ, on average, 5 full-time and 6 part-time staff
  • Each sacred place is a magnet for visitors, attracting 780 visits each week with only 11% of visits for worship and 89% of visits for other purposes
  • 87% of the beneficiaries of the community programs and events housed in sacred places are not members of the religious congregation


In 1996, with the support of the Lilly Endowment and other funders, Partners for Sacred Places conducted the first scientific study in which the contributions of congregations housed in historic and older buildings were quantified. Conducted in Partnership with Dr. Ram Cnaan and the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, this study, Sacred Places at Risk, found that an average urban congregation creates over $140,000 per year in value through the contribution of volunteer time; space at below market rates; and cash and in-kind donations to community-serving programs. The study also found that four of five individuals who visit a given sacred place are beneficiaries of the sacred place’s programming rather than members of the congregation.

Sacred Places at Risk established a new methodology for documenting the public value of congregations and led to a new course of study, which was inaugurated by Dr. Cnaan’s book, The Newer Deal: Social Work and Religion in Partnership, and further validated with the publication of The Invisible Caring Hand: American Congregations and the Provision of Welfare and The Other Philadelphia Story: How Local Congregations Support Quality of Life in Urban America.

Though groundbreaking, Sacred Places at Risk and subsequent works did not attempt to quantify all of the ways that congregations impact their communities. The Economic Halo Effect of Historic Sacred Places does.

In 2010, Partners was funded by the William Penn Foundation to test the concept of an expanded methodology. Partners again collaborated with Dr. Cnaan and the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice to craft a comprehensive approach to quantifying the public value of congregations. The pilot, conducted in Philadelphia, sought to take into consideration factors such as area spending and support for local businesses; building maintenance costs; visitor spending; activities that promote community economic development; the impact on individuals’ lives; and values inherent to religious properties (green space and recreation space).

Based on an extensive review of available, academically vetted methodologies, the team identified nearly two-dozen quantifiable measures of economic impact relevant to congregations stewarding historic and older sacred places, and assembled a singular methodology to pilot in Philadelphia. The results of this pilot were published in 2013 in the scholarly, peer-reviewed Journal of Management, Spirituality and Religion.

With funding from the Lilly Endowment and the McCormick Foundation, Partners built upon the pilot by undertaking a larger study. This study differed from the first in that it included a greater number of congregations (ninety), and congregations were selected at random from three large cities (Chicago, Philadelphia, and Ft. Worth). The results were published in November of 2016, and are available here.

The results of The Economic Halo Effect of Historic Sacred Places prompted the creation of The Economic Halo Effect of Sacred PlacesSM, a tool that is being used to calculate the economic impact of congregations throughout the United States.

Interested in calculating The Economic Halo Effect of your congregation or group of congregations? Partners for Sacred Places offers Halo assessments for one congregation, a cluster of congregations or even a full judicatory.