Unleavened Brett

Brett’s Friday Blog Post

UB Jan 26 web

Why is church good for you?

In our current church message series, “Good for You,” we’ve been exploring biblical principles for better living. We seem to be in a high-stress time of negative emotions & mental health struggles. A number of factors have converged in the last few years to intensify anxiety, loneliness & depression. They can be attributed to the widespread adoption of smartphones & social media, pandemic lockdowns, political & financial upheavals, & loss of trust in all institutions. This is a society that has suffered disconnection, division, deterioration & despair. Yet surely the most obvious yet most neglected explanation for our lack of cohesion & coping is the declining interest in God & involvement in church.

From a practical standpoint, religion is good for you. We already know it’s good for our souls, but it might also be good for our health according to numerous studies. A 2017 Vanderbilt study showed showed “people who attend worship services may reduce their mortality risk by 55% — especially those between the ages of 40 and 65.” In fact, those not attending church were twice as likely to die prematurely as those who did attend. Dr. Marino Bruce, a professor & associate director of the school’s Center for Research on Men’s Health cites the underlying reasons as social support, a sense of compassion, & holiness (which he explains as “being a part of something that’s greater than oneself”).

A 2016 study from JAMA Internal Medicine found that women who attend religious services once a week had at least a 26% lower risk of mortality than those who said they never went. Most of the women in the study were Christian. A 2016 study published by JAMA Psychiatry found that “women who attended any religious service once a week or more were five times less likely to commit suicide.” A 2018 study in the “Sleep Health Journal” found that: “More religious adults in particular tend to exhibit healthier sleep outcomes than their less religious counterparts.”

According to another 2016 report, this time by the Institute for Family Studies, couples who practice their faith by attending church together say they have a significantly higher relationship quality than those who don’t. Then a 2018 Harvard study examined how being reared in a religious family affects children’s mental health. Kids who attended a religious service at least once per week scored higher for psychological well-being, & had lower risks of mental illness. Weekly attendance was also associated with lower probabilities of drug use & early sexual initiation. These youth also have a higher sense of purpose.

In 2020, Tanya Luhrmann, a Stanford anthropologist, wrote in her book that religious faith can lead to positive mental benefits. She includes many religions, & so explains in a secular, therapeutic way that such people “are able to attend differently to their thoughts, feel calmer and more beloved.” People of faith report feeling better & healthier–that is, a good “social” relationship with God is good “for your body in terms of immune functions and reducing loneliness.”

Back in 2010, Dr. James Patterson, a professor at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center wrote that the results of studies show that going to church is good for you. For example, two psychologists discovered that “in the older adult population studied, attending church on a regular basis helped protect against the appearance of depression.” They “make the argument that regular church attendance is related to less depressed mood because it is a ‘shared spiritual activity’ and it provides more meaning and purpose in life than other non-spiritual social activities.” Dr. Patterson remarked: “God designed us for relationships. He wants us to have an active relationship with Him, and he wants us to stay in relationship with other members of the body of Christ.”

Notice that all these studies were pre-Covid. Imagine how much worse the situation is since then. Yes, more people are watching church services online, but we need that in-person human interaction with those who share our faith & values. That can’t be replaced with online & digital substitutions. Screens can supplement but never replace the real thing.

It makes sense that church attendance would have these benefits. God doesn’t need us to be involved in church–WE need it! But we don’t attend just to get something out of it. When we attend for purely pragmatic & selfish reasons, we’re inversely & ironically not going to benefit much. Why? Because that’s not the right reason for church involvement. We go to honor God first, & then also to encourage others. That’s when we actually DO get something beneficial out of it because we’re invested in strengthening our relationship with the Lord & experiencing the loving community of fellow believers.

Our faith is not just about ritualistically practicing a religion. It’s about a real relationship with the God who made us & loves us so much He sent His Son to reconcile us to Himself, & adopt us into His forever family!