Philadelphia has one of the densest concentrations of houses of worship in urban America, with an estimated 2,095 congregations. Roughly 88% of these congregations provide at least one social service to their community. A 2001 study from the University of Pennsylvania found that on average, a Philadelphia congregation provides 2.41 programs to their community, resulting in service to 102 people per congregation, per month. Some of these religious groups collaborate with secular groups, in addition to government organizations, in an effort to widen their reach and assist as many people as possible.
In total, the study estimates the financial “value” of congregational social services provided to the people of Philadelphia at over $245 million per year.
Services provided by congregations vary—ranging from programs targeted at youth and children, to those geared at the elderly, the poor, disabled Americans, and those suffering from addiction. Clergy and members of the congregation are often joined by non-members from the community, embracing civic involvement as a broader ideal. The study goes on to estimate the true value of the services provided by congregations, examining factors like hours of service performed, in-kind support, and financial support. In total, the study estimates the financial “value” of congregational social services provided to the people of Philadelphia at over $245 million per year. While this estimate is staggering, the true value of service is likely much greater, as the study took a conservative estimate of the number of services and volunteer hours performed.
These service hours and their value often vastly outpace the level of support provided by successful American corporations. When compared with an average American corporation that donates about 1% of their pretax net income to charitable purposes, congregations outperform giving by a much greater scale, often allotting up to 40% of their budgets towards helping their communities.