When we talk about the value of religion to American society, we often mean moral or spiritual value–like the way Christians and churches espouse biblical truth and point people back to God. The Church’s primary “value” in the world is spiritual–not monetary.

However, to prove religion is valuable in more ways than one, researchers writing in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research and Religion have published a study evaluating religious institutions’ economic contributions to American society.

After examining the revenues of religious organizations as well as the fair market values of the goods and services these organizations offered, researchers estimated “religion” in America contributes at least $378 billion to the U.S. economy annually–and possibly as much as $1.2 trillion or more.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention writes,

Faith-based healthcare networks contribute $161 billion annually (13.9 percent of the total contribution of religion to the U.S. economy). Congregations contribute about $327 billion annually (28.2 percent), plus an additional $91.3 billion if schools and daycare are taken into account (together making 36.1 percent of the total). Higher education adds $46.8 billion annually (4 percent), charities add $95.2 billion annually (8.2 percent), and businesses [with religious roots] add $438 billion annually, slightly more than a third of the total (37.8 percent).

Obviously, this research is imperfect–a point the study’s authors carefully make–but when you consider how many hospitals and adoption agencies were founded by religious organizations; how many Christian charities contribute to things like disaster relief, and how many churches are backing their efforts financially; and how many churches run food pantries, homeless shelters, daycares, and schools; it becomes apparent that people of faith are having a tremendous impact on the world–both in spiritual and economic terms.