While it may seem counterintuitive, if not sacrilegious, to place a dollar value on the service of God, a 2016 study tries to do just that, concluding, in Brian Grim’s words, that “religion is responsible for $1.2 trillion of socioeconomic value annually to the U.S. economy.” This number includes the economic value of congregations and other religious institutions, as well as “faith-based, faith-related, or faith-inspired businesses.” But Grim argues that this contribution is different from that of, say, a business that employs the same number of people.
Each year congregations spend $84 billion on their operations, ranging from paying hundreds of thousands of personnel to paying for goods and services as diverse as flowers, sounds systems, maintenance, and utilities. Almost all is spent right in the local community. Congregations are like magnets attracting economic activity ranging from weddings to lectures, conventions, and even tourism.
But it’s what congregations do in their communities that makes the biggest contribution. Congregations provide 130,000 alcohol-recovery programs such as the Saddleback Church’s Celebrate Recovery program that has helped more than 27,000 individuals over the past 25 years. Congregations also provide 120,000 programs to help the unemployed. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has employment-service centers across the country (and world).
If we extend our view beyond what happens at local congregations and schools, we can find tens of thousands of other religiously affiliated charities, healthcare facilities, and institutions of higher learning also doing these sorts of good works every day. . . . There are thousands of religiously based colleges, such as Jewish-affiliated Brandeis University, throughout the country.
Religion-related businesses also add another $438 billion to the U.S. economy each year. These include faith-based enterprises, ranging from halal- and kosher-food industries to religious media such as [the Catholic] EWTN and the [evangelical] Christian Broadcasting Network. The largest group within this sector is not religious companies, per se, but faith-inspired or religion-friendly companies. Tyson’s Foods, for example, employs a large force of chaplains for its multireligious workforce.