According to the Pew Research Center Surveys, 2008 to 2017, about 89% of Christians in Ghana attest to the fact that religion is an important component of their lives, as compared to Christians in Israel (58%) and Nigeria (82%). Interestingly, Ethiopia, Honduras and Philippines appeared to top with 98%, 94% and 91% respectively.
This notwithstanding, I have also encountered many people, including family members, who are of the belief that there is no need going to church in this current dispensation, coupled with false prophesies everywhere. There are those who also hold the belief that, going to church is a waste of time and is an avenue for Pastors to siphon monies from the public. Many people also attend church only on Easter, Christmas, 31st December and New Year. Why is this the trend?
In this COVID-19 era, online church services have become common, and are gradually becoming the norm. That notwithstanding, due to many misgivings some people have on church going, I have decided to look at the impact of just going to church from the scientific perspective. Additionally, this writeup also examines the impact of the new online church service trend vis-à-vis in-person church.
In my search for literature, I was amazed to see the hundreds of studies conducted at various universities and institutes, and under the supervision of trained medical experts, that have demonstrated health benefits associated with regular in-person church attendance, as compared to the new online trend. It is important however to note, that these studies just focused on going to church alone and not on prayer.
Statistics on Church Attendance
The Gallup International, a self-reporting survey conducted via telephone, indicates that 37% of Americans report that they attended religious services weekly or near-weekly in the year 2013. This corresponds with the Pew Research Center (2013) report which indicated that 37% of all Americans attended church on a weekly basis.
According to religioustolerance.org, based on 1990-1991 data, it was estimated that the country with the highest rate of church attendance in the world was Nigeria (89%) and with the lowest - the Soviet Union (2%). Ghana was also featured to have 83% of church attendance by the same organization.
Studies on just going to Church benefits:
The Pew Research Center’s findings attest to the fact that over 75% of people in every country surveyed in the region say religion is very important to them. At the other end of the spectrum, levels of religious importance are lowest among Christians in Europe, where deaths outnumber births among Christians. Similarly, in every African country surveyed, more than 60% of Christians say they attend church at least weekly. Joey Marshall’s (2018) article was also of the view that the world’s most committed Christians live in Africa, Latin America and the U.S. So what is the importance of church attendance?
A decreased risk of depression
In 2013, a study conducted by Balbuena et al; the Canadian National Population Health Survey; happened to be one of the biggest studies ever done on the impact of church going on depression, and examined thousands of adults over 14 years (1994-2008). The study found that people who attended church monthly or more often had a 22% lower risk for serious depression than those who didn’t attend, after controlling for other factors that might have influenced the rates of depression.
This data is in agreement with the American teenagers’ study. The Vedantam report, (2019) from the University of North Carolina examined the effects of church attendance on depression in adolescents aged 13 to 18. They found that kids who attended church once a week had a 20% lower risk for moderate-to-severe depression in comparison to young people who didn’t attend church at all.
Interestingly, these researchers also studied the effects of religious feelings in general, by examining if non-church going kids who had many religious classmates were less likely to be depressed than those who had fewer. The study found that those kids were less prone to depression, this means that non-church going kids who surround themselves with Christian or church going kids alone have a positive impact on them. This also means that non-believers who send their kids to Christian schools alone could also benefit from this study.
In a more recent 2018 study conducted by Terrence et al., sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation, a connection between church attendance and high-quality sleep was found. The study noted: “More religious adults in particular tend to exhibit healthier sleep outcomes than their less religious counterparts.”
They further stated: “religious involvement may be associated with healthier sleep outcomes by limiting mental, chemical, and physiological arousal associated with psychological distress, substance use, stress exposure, and allostatic load (the combined physical effects of chronic stress)”.
Further, a 2019 study conducted by Ellison et al., in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion discussed data collected from a 2017 Baylor University survey that asked 1,410 people to comment on their sleep patterns and religious histories. The study found that people who went to church regularly slept longer, fell asleep more easily and awoke feeling more rested in the morning.
To better understand the results, the researchers emphasized the feelings of spiritual solidarity, the shared sense of purpose, and the charitable attitudes that emerge from regular exposure to the church home, and its family, friends and the overall community. The researchers had this say:
“For all these reasons, it is plausible that regular churchgoers may experience less agitation in the wake of negative life events, and, ultimately, better quality sleep,”
Improved Quality of Life
The CNN reports that results released in 2016 from the National Nurses’ Health Study in the United States revealed some intriguing data about nurses who go to church. Over 75,000 middle-aged female nurses filled out a survey that included information about how often they had attended church between 1992 and 2012. This study showed that nurses who went to church more than once a week were 33% less likely to die during that 20-year study period than women who didn’t attend church at all. For women who went to church once a week, the advantage was 26%.
The most intriguing is a 2017 Vanderbilt University study which found that middle-aged men and women (ages 40 to 65) who attended church regularly had a 55% lower risk of dying in any given year. They also encountered significantly fewer bad health effects associated with exposure to chronic stress (like heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and so on). This research project created some impressive admissions from interview subjects about why people go to church that help explain the health benefits. The researchers wrote:
“We found that they go to church for factors beyond social support,” said Marino Bruce, a Vanderbilt social and behavioral scientist who is also a Baptist minister.
“That’s where we begin to think about this idea … of compassionate thinking, that we’re … trying to improve the lives of others as well as being connected to a body larger than ourselves.”
Improves Blood Pressure
Two retrospective studies by Graham et al., (1978) and Koenig et al., (1998) found religiously active older adults having lower blood pressures than those who are less active, as a result of regular church attendance. Another prospective study by Gillum et al., (2006) compared with never attending, attendance at religious services weekly or more than weekly. Results revealed that church attendance was associated with somewhat lower adjusted hypertension prevalence in a large national survey.
Other studies such as Bruce et al., (2017) have indicated that regular church attendance can reduce blood pressure, improve interpersonal relationships, and lower suicide rates, among the long list of possible benefits. According to Live Science, a study initiated in Norway has linked lower blood pressure to regular church attendance. The study elaborates prior research that has provided the same conclusions as well. This should be of particular interest to anybody over the age of 50. If you want to manage it, though, church attendance–along with a healthy diet and exercise regimen–might be the key.
Improves the Immune System
Just as church attendance can lower your blood pressure, some studies have found that those who attend church services regularly benefit from a stronger immune system. This might be attributed to a range of phenomena, but perhaps the support provided by a church community serves as motivation for healthier living and better choices. No matter what the exact cause of this benefit is, though, it is clear that your immune system, and your health as a whole, can benefit greatly from attending services and getting involved with a congregation at your local church. While no one has studied the cumulative impact of church attendance and constant immersion in spiritual environments on church architects specifically, the existing literature points to the fact that regular church attendance has positive health benefits.
Boosts Your Self-Esteem
Studies suggest that a heightened sense of self-esteem is linked to going to church. This may sound surprising, but it shouldn’t; the church connects you with a supportive community of friends and spiritual leaders. With a second family by your side, of course, you are likely to feel more confident. Self-esteem is inextricably linked to your physical health as well. Feeling better about yourself is likely to help you feel physically better. That’s certainly a win-win and a great reason to start attending a local church
Improves Morals and Manners
According to the Huffington Post, manners and well-being “go hand in hand.”. Morality and manners are some of the most beneficial principles that can be derived from attending a church regularly.
In-Person and Online Church Attendance
In my extensive review of empirical literature, I found that the health benefits measured in these various studies were all derived from in-person church attendance, which raises an interesting question: Can people who attend church exclusively online enjoy the same kind of benefits in this COVID-19 era?
Since online attendance is a relatively new concept, more research will need to be done to answer this question. But it seems unlikely that the health benefits would be as great, since the social aspect of church attendance is largely lost when people attend church virtually. Also, the intensity of the feelings produced by services is inevitably reduced, as attendees can no longer bask in a church environment that has been carefully crafted to produce a spiritually immersive and religiously uplifting experience.
What is beyond dispute is that attending church in-person, in the company of loved ones and surrounded by friends, neighbors and the greater church community, is an effective form of medicine. You don’t need a prescription to get it, and the benefits it delivers can have a profoundly positive impact on your life. I have also benefited immensely from going to church regularly after my encounter with the Prophet of God at the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC), Holy Ghost Temple, Adenta-Fafraha, on 6th March, 2011, and since then became a full member of the Church. So, I can tell you on authority, that there is God in that Church and regular Church attendance indeed has health significance.
The author is an honorary Professor of Naturopathy and a theologian. President, Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine & Technology and African Naturopathic Foundation. E-mail: [email protected]