Holy freeloading! Religion is big business, especially with the help of your tax dollars
By Valerie Tarico
Sept 19, 2013
Have you ever thought about starting a new religion or perhaps a hometown franchise of an old one? Perhaps you’re just looking for a career ladder in a religious enterprise that already exists.
No? Maybe you should.
Religion is big business. There are lots of options (over 30,000Â variants of Christianity alone), and if the scale is rightÂ it can pay really, really well.
Creflo Dollar, founder of World Changers Church, has an estimated net worth of $27 million. Benny Hinn comes in at $42 million. Squeaky clean tent revival pioneer Billy Graham bankrolled around $25 million. Even “Eddie Long” who has been plagued by accusations of sex with underage male members of his congregation can count his bankbook in the millions.
You say you don’t have star power? No worries. Millions of ordinary ministers, priests, missionaries, religious hospital administrators and other church employees earn solid middle- or upper-middle-class incomes in the God business. The pay is good, and for most positions it doesn’t matter what race you are or what grade you happened to get in chemistry.
That said, starting or expanding a religious enterprise doesn’t come cheap, even in an established religion that’s transforms ordinary members into volunteer outreach staff. Christianity spends an estimated “$16 billion annually” on the kind of marketing-service blend traditionally called “missionary work”.
Missionary work may include disaster relief or education with recruiting in the mix. An earthquake survivor might receive a “solar-powered Bible” to go with his rice and beans and sutures. A Hindu child might getÂ free schooling, pencils and paper included, along with the message that the gods his parents worship are actually demons. Among people who are less desperate, the offerings can be more nuanced and less expensive. For example, a lonely student might get offered kindness and dinner by someone who is paid to live near campus as aÂ friendship missionary. Sometimes mention of heaven or hell is all the enticement needed, though even then there may be costs associated with print materials and distribution. Soldiers in Iraq gave outÂ Jesus coinsÂ andÂ a little cartoon bookshowing that when an IED killed a Muslim, he or she went to hell, a fate that could be averted by conversion.
The cost of rice, beans, medical supplies, pencils, swag, facilities and salaries can add up. Fortunately, some of religionâ€™s bigger players have gotten creative in recent years. Theyâ€™ve figured out how to pay for at least part of their growth on the public dime. Having taxpayers cover a portion your costs, even overhead or infrastructure, drives up your margin. It may actually make the difference between a religious enterprise that is a fiscal black hole and one that is lucrative. So, whether youâ€™re thinking about positioning within a small religion or large, one thatâ€™s new or one thatâ€™s well established, itâ€™s worth taking a look at these ten examples to see if thereâ€™s something you can borrow.
1. Fund your religion classes with school vouchers, tuition tax credits or capital grants.
2. Get free facilities for after-school clubs in public facilities.
3. Nudge your doctrines into public school textbooks and discussions.
4. Support military missionaries on government salaries.
5. Use federal disaster relief to rebuild after “acts of God.”
6. Leverage historic preservation grants to rehab your real estate.
7. The public underwrites religious infrastructure.
8. International aid dollars.
9. Administering public health facilities.
10. Provide safety net services to potential converts.