The legacy media never seem more enthusiastic than when they are reporting about the decline of church membership. Only 36% of Americans say they attend religious services at least weekly, while 30% say they attend “seldom/never” — and both trends are moving in the wrong direction. In 2020, the number of Americans who consider themselves members of a church or other religion fell below a majority (47%) for the first time. And the younger the respondent, the less likely they are to attend church or to believe in God at all.
That’s lamentable for numerous reasons. For believers, the biggest issue comes in their alienation from God and the atrophying of their soul’s higher functions. But a series of studies prove that those who do not attend church, or do not attend regularly, miss out on a host of secular benefits, as well. Those benefits include:
Churchgoers are happier than secular people.
Multiple studies have found that people who regularly attend religious services have a more cheerful heart than those who do not. “Happiness is a crowded pew,” wrote NBC News in 2010. The author was remarking on a study conducted by Robert Putnam and Chaeyoon Lim, published that December in the American Sociological Review, which found weekly churchgoers were more likely to say they are “extremely satisfied” with life than non-churchgoers. “We found that people are more satisfied with their lives when they go to church, because they build a social network within their congregation,” said Lim. Nine years later, a Pew Research Center survey found strikingly similar results about happiness. “Sometimes the gaps are striking: In the U.S., for instance, 36% of the actively religious describe themselves as ‘very happy,’ compared with 25% of the inactively religious and 25% of the unaffiliated,” noted the 2019 Pew study. “Notable happiness gaps among these groups also exist in Japan, Australia and Germany.” How long will it be until psychiatrists prescribe “church attendance” to depressed Americans?
Regular church attendance helps poor children excel at education.
Although the media and academia regularly associate religion with ignorance and obscurantism, a new study shows that caricature could not be further from the truth. Regular church attendance actually increases the likelihood that working-class young people will excel in high school and go on to receive a college education. “My research focused on Christian denominations because they are the most prevalent in the United States,” wrote Ilana M. Horwitz, an assistant professor of Jewish studies and sociology at Tulane University, in The New York Times in March 2022. She tracked the lives of 3,290 teenagers by correlating data from the National Study of Youth and Religion and the National Student Clearinghouse and found the importance of church attendance. In high school, religious working-class boys proved twice as likely to earn high grades than those not raised going to church. “Those raised by professional-class parents, for example, do not experience much in the way of an educational advantage from being religious. … However, teenage boys from working-class families, regardless of race, who were regularly involved in their church and strongly believed in God were twice as likely to earn bachelor’s degrees as moderately religious or nonreligious boys.” Horwitz believes the optimism and purpose infused by church teachings help religious adherents overcome the depression, despair and lethargy engendered by other parts of their environment.
Practicing Christians are more likely to enjoy flourishing relationships.
Practicing Christians are twice as likely as the average American to be content with their personal and emotional life, and experience deep and fulfilling relationships with other people. A study released by the Barna Group in March 2022 found:
- 29% of all U.S. adults said, “My relationships are as satisfying as I would want them to be,” compared with 60% of practicing Christians;
- 34% of all U.S. adults said, “I am content with my friendships and relationships,” compared with 67% of practicing Christians; and
- 28% of all U.S. adults said they experienced “relational flourishing,” compared with 61% of practicing Christians.
“A church that not only welcomes and connects people but also operates out of an awareness (if not a proficiency in) in the realities of what it takes to be content and satisfied in relationships today is key in supporting the whole-life flourishing of congregants,” the study noted. This Barna study had a 2.9% margin of error and a 95% confidence rate.
Churchgoers earn more money.
One economist found that regularly attending religious services results in a “better economic outcome.” Specifically, households that attend church twice as often as another household will earn 9.1% more income, according to economist Jonathan Gruber of MIT. Gruber did not explain how church attendance benefited believers’ bottom lines, although he speculated four possible reasons: Church attendance may create broader social networks; parochial schools may offer a better education than public schools; churches provide charity to help its struggling members; and it may be that people with “more faith may be less stressed out about daily problems that impede success in the labor market and the marriage market, and are therefore more successful.”
Young churchgoers are less likely to commit crime.
The more often young people attend church — and the greater importance they place on religion — the less likely they are to commit juvenile legal offenses. Marripedia, an online database related to everything concerning family formation and religious observance, said: “In a major national survey of adolescents, a 6 percent reduction in delinquency was associated with a one-point increase on an index that combined adolescents’ frequency of religious attendance with their rating of religion’s importance. Each unit increase in a mother’s religious practice is associated with a 9 percent decline in her child’s delinquency. The adolescents at lowest risk for delinquency typically have highly religious mothers and are themselves highly religious.”
Churchgoers are more likely to donate to/volunteer for charity.
People who regularly attend church services do not merely receive benefits; they are also more likely to bestow them on others. Surveys have found those who attend church weekly are more likely to give money to charitable organizations and substantially more likely to volunteer their time to the cause. “Overall, 93% of weekly or nearly weekly churchgoers say they donated money to a charity, compared with 82% of those who seldom or never go to church,” a 2006 Gallup poll found. “However, more than three in four weekly churchgoers (79%) say they volunteered their time for a charity in the past year, while fewer than half of those who rarely or never attend church (47%) say they volunteered their time.”
This takes into account a mere handful of the vast number of surveys, polls, studies and social data correlating regular church attendance with better educational attainment, personal happiness, relationship stability, law-abiding behavior and pro-social activity.
When the media celebrate the death of religion in America, we must remember that this is what they are celebrating: a poorer, less educated, more incarcerated population less likely to be satisfied with themselves or others. One can hardly call that progress.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.