As a sizable multi-site church, we will probably always be looking at properties. But no matter where we look, it’s getting harder and harder for churches to get into facilities.
I’ll never forget the awful feeling: Our church had sunk tens of thousands of dollars into vetting a property. Against all odds, we got the seller to agree on a price. Yet, when the city heard we were a church, the city planner literally told us: “There’s no way in hell I’m allowing a church into my city.” And he was serious. Although his words were illegal, he dared us: “Go ahead and sue! We will tie you up in litigation until your seller wants nothing to do with you.” And unfortunately, he had the legal funds to do it And sure enough: this strategy worked, time and time again. (Indeed, we lost a half dozen other properties the same way).
At the time, I didn’t want to waste two years suing our city. (Nor did our church have the hundreds of thousands of dollars to call the bluff of a big wealthy municipality). And yet, our church ended up losing far more money through wasted appraisals – not to mention religious freedom.
For a season, I thought the city was just being a stickler about tax benefits (paying for police, fire, etc). Yet many pastors offer to pay these fees and it doesn’t change anything. (You would be shocked how many times I offered 6-digit sums only to still get rejected by city boards.) It’s because there’s a deeper issue of religious freedom at stake.
As another example, after having launched hundreds of portable churches in the past few years, almost weekly I hear about churches getting kicked out of their portable locations due to religious discrimination. Despite the fact that public schools are constantly desperate for more money, governments like the State of New York have foolishly made it illegal for churches to even rent from them (even though churches have traditionally offered the highest secondary income to public school systems).
But all of this is quite silly when, research shows, there are many huge benefits to having a church in your city. In fact, here’s some research to argue that, not only should churches continue to receive tax exemption but, based on the evidence, perhaps they should even be given even MORE breaks.
It’s already been well established that the presence of a church increases graduation rates, student Grade Point Averages, college attendance, and increase decrease other child outcomes (see my blog, the statistical benefits of church attendance).
But, here are five more research driven facts about the economic opportunities that churches bring to the city:
5 Additional Economic Benefits of Church.
(1) . An average sized church congregation (200-400 members) brings in $4.2 million annually into area businesses. When adding up the economic revenues of things like weddings, funerals, events, conferences, etc. (Events that churches bring into their cities) the cascading economic benefits on gas-stations, restaurants, and other service industries are quite huge. The financial impact of larger churches (3000-4000 members) average an economic benefit of around $11.2 million annually. – (Cnaan, 2011) – O’Reilly, David. “What’s a Churches’ economic worth”
(2). For poverty alleviation, the average small church invests around $140,000 a year into it’s community. (E.g., Food shelves, free financial/legal counseling). Most churches give at least 10% of their budgets back to missions and outreach. (O’Reilly, 2011; What’s a Churches’ economic worth).
(3). Large churches increase Property Values – Draw Home-owners: According to a large study (tracking over 5000 houses), houses within a half-mile of a large church generally experience a 6.27% increase in property value. For eg. A church with over 1500 attendees could easily draw 40 new families to relocate – especially so when a demographically young church moves into a city with below average home costs. (Carroll, Clauretie & Jensen, 1996), Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics – University of Nevada in Las Vegas.
(4). Churches are statistically proven to decrease crime rates – particularly decreasing levels of assault, burglary, larceny (Bainbridge 1989), as well as drug use (Fagan 2006).
(5). An average sized church congregation adds “community services” equivalent to $115,009 per year. (E.g., Elderly care, Addiction recovery programs, after-school mentoring, etc). (Boddie, et al. 2001) See more research here.
So, don’t allow city councils or politicians strip churches of tax exemption or any other religious benefits. There’s a lot of reasons we deserve them. And remember, it already costs a lot of churches about a quarter million dollars in legal fees to even force municipalities (to obey the law) – which is ridiculous. The practical implication is that, churches with under 1000 members will find it economically impossible to purchase property deep into any big city (unless the property is already zoned for a church).
But, if we don’t seriously fight for our rights and share what we bring to the table, then please be aware, we may not have a chair soon.