Places of worship were excluded from the construction boom


Construction spending in the United States has grown steadily since the financial crisis, and in June it was near an all-time high. annualized rate of $ 1.550 billion. Digging through the data, dollars spent on most construction categories have increased in line with the overall economic expansion.

The plot: One segment counteracts the trend most noticeably. The construction of religious establishments has fallen sharply over the past two decades.

Why is this important: Construction spending provides a snapshot of economic growth in the United States and what Americans are investing in.

  • Similar to how the decline in brick and mortar retail stores doesn’t necessarily reflect an outright decline in shopping, the way people worship is changing as well.

In numbers : Spending on the construction of religious facilities reached a record annualized rate of $ 3 billion in June. This is a decrease of 66% from the record of $ 8.8 billion reached in August 2003, according to Census data.

  • Meanwhile, spending on construction of entertainment and recreation facilities jumped 42%, from $ 7.7 billion in August 2003 to $ 10.9 billion in June.
  • Educational buildings, offices, and sewage and waste treatment facilities are among the categories whose expenditure has increased in recent years.

Details: Religious establishments in the dataset understand places of worship such as churches, mosques, synagogues and temples. They do not include some buildings belonging to religious organizations such as universities and hospitals.

Between the lines: According to Gallup, only 47% of American adults reported being a member of a church, synagogue or mosque in 2020. This was the first time this group was not in the majority.

Yes, but: The Reverend David Schoen, Minister of the United Church of Christ Church Building & Loan Fund, follows church closures up close and tells Axios that the decline in construction doesn’t tell the whole story.

  • Schoen notes that devotees engage in other ways, such as through online portals. They also meet in schools and warehouses.
  • “There are a number of churches on the market that can be purchased,” adds Schoen. “So there isn’t a lot of new construction.”

What to watch: “Millennials have been a bit later in terms of partnering, having kids and moving to the suburbs, ”Kermit Baker, chief economist at the American Institute of Architects, told Axios.

  • “I think all of this feeds into the decision to join a religious organization.”
  • Baker doesn’t think the trends will reverse as millennials get older, but perhaps says they’re “starting to stabilize.”

The bottom line: Religious construction is a small part of the overall picture. But category trends provide insight into why aggregate data measures are increasing or decreasing.


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