The Church as an Economic Actor

“If your church closed its doors, would the community care?” This question has become popular among many church leaders, helping us to consider whether our churches are making a tangible difference in our communities. But a growing body of research suggests that, at least economically, healthy churches are extremely important institutions that impact the flourishing of their communities.

For instance, one study revealed that every dollar a congregation spends could create $4.77 worth of service a city does not have to provide. Another indicated that congregations contribute $418 billion to the American economy each year. In its recent “Economic Halo Effect” report, Partners for Sacred Places estimated that “the average historic sacred place in an urban environment generates over $1.7 million annually in economic impact.” Partners’ research was based on an in-depth study of 90 urban congregations in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Fort Worth.

As Amy Sherman has said, “The local church can be a potent economic force.” Whether we realize it or not, the church is an important economic actor.

And there is a sense that many churches have not tapped into ways they may expand their economic impact, because they may not even realize the assets they can bring to serve their communities. Sherman continues,

  • Perhaps a church owns land that could be converted into a community garden that grows fresh produce for a local food bank;
  • Perhaps a church with unused classroom space during the week could consider renting the space at low cost to a daycare provider (or launching its own preschool program to meet the needs of working parents);
  • Perhaps a church has a commercial kitchen that could be offered at free or low-cost to an emerging entrepreneur looking to operate a catering business;
  • Perhaps a church with a significant benevolence budget could earmark a generous portion of it to go towards low or no-interest loans that help capitalize new business endeavors;
  • Perhaps the church could review how it purchases its supplies and services, looking for fresh ways to benefit the local economy.

One church who embraced this vision of contributing to the economic flourishing of its community is Rose City Church, in Pasadena, CA. Led by pastor Dan Davidson, leaders from Rose City Church believed they were called to do more than simply provide advice or expertise to congregants in how they might connect faith with their work. They saw their physical church space as full of potential to become an economic blessing to their community.

Through an initiative called Rose City CoWork, the church opened up space that is used for office sharing. Local entrepreneurs can seek “vocational empowerment through shared community and a productive working environment.” In an area where office space can be hard to come by and harder to afford, Rose City is offering a service to small businesses that helps them create margin and work in a relational environment. In an innovative way, they are seeking the peace and prosperity of the city in which they live.

Travis Lowe, a pastor in Bluefield, WV, shared this same logic:

“What if rural churches advertised office space for local start-ups? The market for rental office space is already established. Churches could provide entrepreneurs with private or shared offices, phones, high-speed internet, conference rooms, mail services, kitchen facilities, and possibly even share a secretary. Instantly, your church has rebranded itself as a small business incubator in your community. This could all be done with little to no cost for the church and could potentially produce an incredible amount of added revenue for the church. The new income would be coupled with community goodwill…and new people walking in your doors.”

The church is an important economic actor. Through prayer, creativity, and by considering the assets that God has provided, churches across the country are beginning to find ways to serve their communities in tangible ways that meet real needs. This month, we’ll be exploring some of those stories.

How might your church consider the assets that God has entrusted to you for the good of your community?

Topics: City Engagement, Common Good

About the Author

Matt Rusten serves as the executive director for Made to Flourish. Rusten received his master of divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has served in churches in North Dakota, the Chicago area, Kansas City, and most recently as pastor of spiritual formation at Blackhawk Church in Madison, Wisconsin. He and his wife, Margi, and their daughter, Olivia, live in Kansas.