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More Church, Less Illness

More Church, Less Illness

J. Michael Sharman



            The last couple weeks it seems as though I have spoken with a fair number of people who have never gone to church as adults because of the childhood hurts they had which are connected to church: pains which were inflicted on them even though Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14)

Church really is good for us. Not only does the Bible tell us so, but medical studies show a direct, positive connection between church attendance and better health.

In an older 1978 study, researchers studied the relationship of blood pressure levels to church attendance patterns. They separated out the effects of age, obesity, cigarette smoking, or socioeconomic status and found a consistent pattern of lower blood pressures among frequent church attenders compared to that of infrequent attenders.[1] Perhaps the reason for this is that Christ said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you." (John 14:27).

One ambitious study analyzed the connection between church attendance, physical health, social supports, and depression. Frequency of church attendance was found to be positively related to physical health, and frequent churchgoers were about half as likely to be depressed. But as a strong indicator that there is something critically important about actual church attendance,  merely listening to Christian radio or watching Christian TV had no link to social support, was not linked to good physical health, and, unexpectedly, was positively associated with depression.[2]

A nationwide study comparing United States suicide rates to church attendance rates found the suicide rates were significantly, negatively correlated with church attendance with no significant differences found between females and males or between whites and blacks.[3]

A study of attempted suicide among 203 Inuit youth in Canada (aged 15 to 24 years) looked for the factors in the native youths' lives that would make suicide more or less likely. Regular church attendance was found to be the single factor that would greatly decrease the likelihood of an attempted suicide.[4]

In Baltimore, 445 youths age 11 through 13 were randomly selected for a study from two public middle schools. Youths whose mothers attended church at least weekly had greater overall satisfaction with their lives, more involvement with their families, better skills in solving health-related problems, and felt greater support from friends compared with the other children.[5]

Church attendance was examined in medical patients aged 60 or older admitted to DukeUniversityMedicalCenter. Patients who attended church at least weekly were significantly less likely in the previous year to have been admitted to the hospital, had fewer hospital admissions, and spent fewer days in the hospital than those attending less often. Unchurched patients spent an average of 25 days in the hospital, compared with only 11 days for church-attending patients.[6]

To cap it all off, there is a seven-year difference in life expectancy at age 20 between people who never attend church and people who attend church more than once a week, regardless of the cause of death.[7]

In an analysis of 42 different studies that included more than 125,000 people, the reviewers concluded that "what really makes for longer life is church attendance." [8]  The reviewers said, "It turned out that religiously active people did not have a lower death rate simply because they also happened to be richer, or better educated, or married, or employed, or because they smoked and drank less or had better mental health - although they were and did. The effect of public religious activity on the death rate was the same, proportionally, at all ages and the same in whites and African-Americans."

It is nice to know it is provably true that God shows no favoritism (Acts ), and that the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him (Romans ).

 Let's think about the conclusion of all this -- Consistently worshipping Jesus for a lifetime makes His followers richer, better educated, generally healthier, with lower blood pressure, less depressed, with less likelihood of suicide, more satisfied with their lives, less likely to need a hospital and to spend less days there when they do go, and in the end have seven years longer to live. 

That's a pretty good list of reasons to overcome our childhood pains and, beginning this Sunday, start going to church again.


[1] Graham TW, Kaplan BH, Cornoni-Huntley JC, James SA, Becker C, Hames CG, Heyden S., "Frequency of church attendance and blood pressure elevation"J Behav Med. 1978 Mar;1(1):37-43.

[2] Koenig HG, Hays JC, George LK, Blazer DG, Larson DB, Landerman LR, "Modeling the cross-sectional relationships between religion, physical health, social support, and depressive symptoms", Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 1997 Spring;5(2):131-44.

[3] Martin WT, "Religiosity and United States suicide rates, 1972-1978", J Clin Psychol. 1984 Sep;40(5):1166-9.

[4] LJ, Boothroyd LJ, Hodgins S., "Attempted suicide among Inuit youth: psychosocial correlates and implications for prevention",Can J Psychiatry. 1998 Oct;43(8):816-22.

[5] Varon SR, Riley AW., "Relationship between maternal church attendance and adolescent mental health and social functioning.", Psychiatr Serv. 1999 Jun;50(6):799-805.

[6] Koenig HG, Larson DB, "Use of hospital services, religious attendance, and religious affiliation" South Med J. 1998 Oct;91(10):925-32.

[7] Hummer RA, Rogers RG, Nam CB, Ellison CG, "Religious involvement and U.S. adult mortality", Demography. 1999 May;36(2):273-85.

[8] McCullough M et al. "Religious Involvement and Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review." Health Psychology (2000), Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 211–222.