The ‘Halo Effect’

Volume 46, Issue 4, by Michael J. Crosbie

You probably have already heard about the “Pope Francis Effect,” which has been credited with everything from bringing lapsed Roman Catholics back to church to boosting collection plate offerings. Since Francis became pope last March, attendance in Catholic parishes, first in Italy and now around the world, has bounced. Even atheists are curious, some attending Mass for the first time. The pope’s humility and authenticity, and his gift for sincerely living what he preaches and questioning the institution he heads, have been ascribed to more than doubling the crowds in St. Peter’s Square at papal audiences.

But here is another dimension of the “Pope Francis Effect”: the new pope is good for business. According to an article on the Forbes Website, there is a tourist boom in the Eternal City, up almost 8 percent over last year. Hotels, restaurants, tour and bus companies, souvenir shops—all of them are benefiting from Pope Francis. He is a veritable one-man economic stimulus package.

The “Pope Francis Effect” is like a laser beam, a concentrated focus of the type of energy that the group Partners for Sacred Places calls the “Halo Effect.” A study of the economic impact of houses of worship on neighborhoods, conducted by Partners and the University of Pennsylvania, found that 12 Philadelphia congregations contributed $52 million in economic value to the city. According to the study, congregations benefit their communities through direct spending; the value of daycare and K-12 education programs; and a range of “catalyzing or leveraging economic values,” things like open space (which increases property values and helps reduce carbon footprint), tourism, volunteer labor, space for community events, and social service programs that stem from the presence of a congregation in the neighborhood. Who benefits? Among the businesses that the study identified are corner stores, hotels, architecture firms, construction companies, florists, custodial suppliers, and restaurants.

These findings build upon earlier research by Partners into the value that congregations contribute to their neighborhoods. That study, called Sacred Places at Risk, found that an urban congregation contributes $140,000 (1997 dollars) on average to support community-serving programs each year. What kind of programs? Amenities such as soup kitchens, day-care centers, job training, substance-abuse counseling. One of the most surprising findings in the SPAR study was the fact that 80 percent of the people who benefited from these outreach programs were not congregation members. The mere presence of a congregation uplifted the neighborhood and its residents.

The report concludes that “…for policy makers, community and business leaders, and funders interested in a particular facet of economic life, these data should help guide their investment.” The study’s findings might also help refute the resistance that is commonplace in many neighborhoods to new congregations moving in. It recasts houses of worship as community economic drivers that can stimulate growth and improve neighborhoods. In 2014, Faith & Form will dedicate a theme issue to “The Sacred in the City,” which will consider how congregations and houses of worship function, contribute, and situate themselves in the urban context.

As the Partners’ research verifies, congregations themselves are assets to the community that make important economic contributions to the health and welfare of everyone in the neighborhood.

And you don’t have to be Pope Francis to have an impact.

Michael J. Crosbie is the Editor-in-Chief of Faith & Form and can be reached by email at [email protected]

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