Churches in Africa revealed as highly effective catalyst for helping communities lift themselves out of poverty, according to new Tearfund report
Societal and economic benefits unlocked by local churches working with the wider community in lower-income countries quantified for the first time, leading to a social return 28 times the investment
Individuals saw improvement in every measured aspect of economic and social wellbeing, including access to food, medicine or schooling, resilience to unexpected events, and financial earnings.
For the first time, a study has put a monetary value on the positive change that a church in a lower-income country can bring to people’s lives and wellbeing, by working with its community to identify local needs and help people achieve the improvements they would like to see.
The study showed that this model of investing through local churches is a highly cost-effective way of improving wellbeing: every £1 invested through churches helps the whole community unlock a further £7 of time and resources, which ultimately creates £211 of social value. This is equivalent to a social return of 1:28.
People in communities who engaged with Tearfund’s church training and investment programmes were:
62% more likely to invest in assets eg. animals, land, a house or business
51% more likely to have the same or higher earnings than last year
45% more likely to feel that people would be there for them if they needed help
26% less likely to have a member of their family miss school
26% less likely to have gone without enough food
The study was independently conducted by State of Life, a UK-based research consultancy, for the Christian relief and development agency Tearfund. The report collected 8,000 survey responses in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
A total of 23 aspects of economic, social and personal wellbeing were surveyed, including access to food, medicine or schooling, resilience to unexpected events, and financial earnings. Every single one of these was significantly more positive for people living in communities with church-led training and investment, compared to where it has not started yet.
The study also showed that:
Nine out of ten communities had new or improved community assets and infrastructure after participation.
Results were long-term and sustainable: even 5+ years after the initial training and investment the wellbeing of people in the community was significantly higher than in other communities.
Improvements to wellbeing were felt irrespective of whether individuals attended church and its programmes or not.
Tearfund’s programme inspires and trains churches to work with the whole community to achieve wide-ranging improvements to daily life and long-term wellbeing, through helping people identify and use the resources they already have to hand.
The monetary value of increased wellbeing was measured using a method now recommended by the UK Government.
For more information about the Local Church, Lasting Transformation study and Tearfund’s work please visit our website: https://learn.tearfund.org/cct-impact
Dr Ruth Valerio, Director of Advocacy at Tearfund, said:
“Thanks to food banks and support programmes people have become increasingly aware of churches' outsized contribution to our communities during the pandemic and the cost of living crisis. Now we’ve shown that investing in churches is also an incredibly cost-effective way of helping people in lower-income countries, all the more important given squeezed aid budgets. This report proves what Tearfund has seen around the world for over 50 years: that the church is a superhero.”
Will Watt, Founder of State of Life, said:
“In our previous study 'House of Good' we looked at the significant social value of churches in the UK. To continue this in Africa is equally pioneering and positive. Whatever your faith or belief it’s clear that a lot of good and social value could come from investing in church communities.”
Mother-of-four Beatrice from Rwanda was a landless labourer. After taking part in Tearfund’s programme she now sells food in the market and is able to rent land to raise a cow and goats. She said:
"I was invited to attend training in the church. I started thinking of having a plan for the development of my family. It was hard but I was encouraged by others. We now have enough food to feed our children and pay school fees; I no longer work for others because we have our own business. We can contribute, when there is a need, to support vulnerable people especially disabled and aged people in our community."
Emmanuel Murangira, Tearfund Country Director for Rwanda, said:
“People have discovered they are able to initiate their community development with little support. They have self-confidence and self-esteem. They are able to address the community needs, through building health centres and schools, through access to clean water, by building roads and bridges, using their own resources.”