Now there’s a headline you would expect from a preacher, right? But it’s actually just a paraphrase of a recent study by Harvard University, a school not known for its fondness for faith.
Nevertheless, in a study released in this month’s edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology (the study of diseases and other factors relating to health), researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported a number of concrete benefits from regular attendance at religious services. Who would have thought?
Specifically, the study found that when compared to those who never attend such a service, those who attend weekly or more had greater satisfaction in life, numerous positive character traits, lower drug usage, and greater sexual fidelity. In addition, church attenders had fewer lifetime sexual partners and waited until they were older to engage in sex.
At a time when we are struggling to find answers to the opioid epidemic and the plethora of evils triggered by sexual promiscuity, the researchers may have stumbled onto some solutions that have been available all along just down the street.
Another finding of the study indicated that praying or meditating daily led to better emotional expression and improved processing of life’s challenges. Individuals who practiced these daily disciplines were more likely to volunteer in their communities and had a greater sense of mission and purpose in life. They also extended more forgiveness to others and had reduced probabilities of drug use. Once again, as we search for solutions to the mental health issues facing so many Americans, the prescription may be a return to these age old Biblical strategies.
As I read about these results, it struck me how desperately we need forgivers right now. Our political climate is so highly charged that violent outbursts characterize our uncivilized discussions. On our highways, tensions are so high that even minor traffic incidents push drivers over the edge. With potentialities unthinkable just 20 years ago, many employers now plan for active shooter scenarios. How fewer of these negative events would occur if individuals learned to forgive others from the one who has already forgiven them?
Church attendance and daily time with Jesus are low cost incredibly effective solutions to some of society’s most pressing problems. Although government mandated participation in either of these is prohibited, the gift of religious freedom allows us to participate and pursue these practices for our own and our neighbors’ good.
To quote the Harvard study’s author, “Many children are raised religiously, and our study shows that this can powerfully affect their health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.” In light of all this scientific research, it’s really difficult to find a downside to taking our kids to church and attending ourselves. It’s verifiably good for all of us.
This study only evaluated outcomes that are measurable. Spiritual benefits such as peace and joy are much more difficult to quantify, but these too could be added to the list of advantages of regular corporate worship. Most importantly, the eternal blessings of enjoying heaven with God and our saved loved ones far outweigh the suffering of those who reject God’s son. While mere church attendance doesn’t guarantee our salvation, it is often the place where it is discovered, received, grown, celebrated, and shared.
It always distresses me to hear excuse-minded individuals say, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” What I think they mean is that one can be a believer independent of a body of faith. While that may be true, the word Christian literally means one who follows Jesus and Luke clearly tells us that Jesus’ custom was to attend weekly worship (Luke 4:16). If we claim to be a true Christian, we must follow Christ to weekly worship.
A child doesn’t have to attend school every day to be a student, but his or her grades and ultimate success in life will be impacted by their active and regular participation in the classroom. The same is certainly true for those who sincerely desire to follow Jesus.
Not only does faithful church attendance obey and copy our savior, one of the oldest and most respected universities in our land now affirms that God knew all along how important it was to our individual and corporate health. See you in church this Sunday! George
George Bowers Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren and has authored 11 books which are available at Four Star Printing and Shenandoah Stuff. He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.