Empty Pews Are an American Public Health Crisis
In school, I was never a fan of having to do book reports. The reading I never minded, but the effort to summarize what I read was always an enormous struggle.
Now I’ve grown appreciative of a helpful summary – which is all I want to do for you Today.
One of the church planters in our network shared an article from 2 Harvard researchers in Christianity Today, “Empty Pews Are An American Public Health Crisis.” You can read the full article here.
I don’t know if Tyler VanderWeele and Brendan Case are Christians, but their report struck me. If you’d prefer a succinct report, it’s like I’m back in high school, but now I can type …
First, the not-so-surprising stats: the decline in church confidence or participation is readily evident. Over 2/3 of Americans viewed organized religion with “a great deal of confidence” in 1975. By 2019 (note that date – before the pandemic!), that was down to around 1/3 – which statistically means it had been cut in half. Researchers see highly publicized moral failures and crimes by leaders as contributing factors. When combined with the broad secularization of our entire society, driven primarily through schools and colleges, it becomes an avalanche.
Then came COVID! Recent statistics show that only about one-quarter of Americans now attend religious services with little sign of any recovery. The CT writers note, “Whether or not outrage is involved, the most common experience of Christians who don’t go to church seems to be less a deliberate choice and more a substitution of habits. Put differently, a large share of Christians are opting to go it alone, moving their faith into quarters so private that even the church is not allowed in.”
Second, there are surprising measurable consequences. Using data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which followed more than 70,000 participants (which is an enormous body of inquiry), researchers found that those who attended religious services frequently had markedly better comprehensive life quality – measuring areas as diverse as longevity, depression, suicide, smoking, substance abuse, cancer, cardiovascular health, divorce, social engagement, greater meaning in life, satisfaction, and purpose.
Given how much press public health has gotten with the pandemic, the CT writers were struck that just one single factor profoundly seemed to touch broad-based improved health and life quality. It was this clear: People who do not just subscribe to beliefs or even view online events but actually attend services do remarkably better. And people who don’t do not.
Conclusions: Obviously, the point is not to go to church to have a better earthly life – our goal is eternity. But it is telling that God has designed us in a way that we are communal creatures and that pushing against that design has real consequences. “The data are clear: Going to church remains central to true human flourishing.”
Trusting Jesus as my God and Savior doesn’t just punch my ticket into heaven. He calls me out of a solitary, autonomously proud life that I thought I ruled into the now and forever eternal reality that He alone rules. He pulls me into the very fellowship that He shares with His Father and Holy Spirit. And He calls me to engage in the same fellowship that every other believer in Him now shares.
VanderWeele and Case conclude, “Something about the communal religious experience seems to matter. Something powerful takes place there, Something that enhances health and well-being; and it is Something very different than what comes from solitary spirituality.”
We are not our own. We have been bought with a price. He calls to be loved and to love, starting with His family. If you’re faithful at actually attending corporate worship and a community group, be encouraged. And if you’re not so much, then please join us. We would love to have you with us.