Religion is big business. Just how big? A new study by a father-daughter researcher team says religion in America is bigger than Facebook, Google and Apple – combined.
The article in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion said that the annual revenues of faith-based enterprises – not just churches but hospitals, schools, charities and even gospel musicians and halal food makers – is more than US$378 billion ($518b) a year. And that’s not counting the annual shopping bonanza motivated by Christmas.
Washington DC-based Georgetown University’s Brian Grim and the Newseum’s Melissa Grim – in a study sponsored by an organisation called Faith Counts, which promotes the value of religion – produced a 31-page breakdown of all the ways religion contributes to the US economy.
Perhaps it is time we start the Church of Whaleoil.
Religious charities also contribute to the economy. By far the largest faith-based charity, according to the study, is Lutheran Services of America, with an annual operating revenue of about US$21 billion. The study counted 17 more faith-based charities, all among Forbes’s 50 biggest charities in America, with revenues ranging from US$300 million (Cross International) to US$6.6 billion (YMCA USA).
Almost all the charities are Christian, except for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, with an annual operating revenue of US$400 million.
Religious revenues also include faith-based colleges and universities, where 2 million students pay more than US$46.7 billion in tuition annually, the study said.
The tally includes tuition revenues for religious elementary through high schools as well, plus the Christian book industry, sales of Christian music, the Christian cable networks EWTN and CBN and the US$1.9 billion halal food industry that caters to faithful Muslim consumers. The study counted US$12.5 billion in annual sales of traditional kosher foods, but not the US$300 billion in food sold that has a kosher certification but, like everything from Oreos to Coca-Cola, is generally purchased by non-Jewish consumers.
The study suggested all sorts of other ways one could count the contribution of religion to the US economy – the revenues of faith-linked businesses such as arts and craft stores Hobby Lobby and fast food outlet Chick-fil-A, the box office profits of religious blockbuster movies such as Heaven Is for Real, even the household income of millions of Americans who run their financial lives guided by their faiths.
But sticking just to the direct profits of faith, religion comes out as highly lucrative – a larger chunk of the country’s US$16 trillion GDP, the Grims pointed out, than many giant corporations.