Report: Declining Church Attendance Is Problem for Everybody, Not Just Believers

A parishioner at First Baptist Church, a predominantly African-American congregation, leaves after a worship service in Macon, Ga., on Sunday, July 10, 2016. There are two First Baptist Churches in Macon _ one black and one white. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
AP/Branden Camp

The inexorable drop in U.S. church attendance is not just a matter of concern for religious believers, but for everyone, a new report suggests.

With its well-earned reputation for being one of the more religious countries in the world, the United States has experienced an alarming dip in religiosity over the last decade, with only Islam, Hinduism, and “other religions” being the exceptions to the rule.

As Breitbart News has reported, the hardest hit religious group is Christianity—especially mainline Christianity and Catholicism—which have fallen 3.4 percent  and 3.1 percent, respectively, according to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center.

While these statistics surely trouble people of faith, their broader effects spell problems for society at large, a new report argues, since the benefits of regular church attendance — both societal and personal — “are virtually impossible to dispute,” and include greater happiness, higher income and longer life expectancy.

According to John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, the advantages of regular religious practice are so well documented that people would be foolish not to consider them.

On a personal level, religious practice adds two to three years to a person’s life—statistically speaking. While the causes of this may be disputed, the fact remains that religious people live longer than non-religious people.

One reason, Stonestreet contends, is that religion encourages a healthier lifestyle. Regular churchgoers tend to “drink, smoke and use recreational drugs less than non-churchgoers do,” he notes, and are also “less likely to be sexually promiscuous.”

Regular church attendance also strengthens social ties, creating communities where people take care of one another.

Both a sense of belonging to a community of faith and belief in an ultimate meaning to human existence in turn produce a higher level of personal satisfaction, according to a study of 15,738 Americans between the ages of 18 and 60 by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture.

The study found that people who attend religious services on a weekly basis are nearly twice as likely to describe themselves as “very happy” (45 percent) than people who never attend (28 percent). Conversely, those who never worship are twice as likely to say they are “very unhappy” (4 percent) as those who attend services weekly (2 percent).

Higher levels of church attendance “predict higher life satisfaction,” even after accounting for how important religious faith is in people’s lives, the study revealed. Moreover, the study indicated that not only church attendance, but self-reported “religiosity” and religious “affiliation” are also linked with happiness levels.

Perhaps the most remarkable benefit of church attendance, however, is its documented effect on children and education.

According to sociologist Robert Putnam, “a child whose parents attend church regularly is 40 to 50 percent more likely to go on to college than a matched child of non-attenders.”

Children involved in a religious organization “take tougher courses, get higher grades and test scores, and are less likely to drop out of high school,” Putnam states in his book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, which means they also have better employment prospects.

Religious youth have better relations with their parents and other adults, more friendships with high-performing peers, and are more involved in sports and other extracurricular activities, Putnam notes.

While these undisputed advantages are valid independent of socioeconomic status, the sad fact is that regular church attendance is increasingly tied to one’s place in society, meaning that the benefits of religion are reaped more and more by people of higher socioeconomic levels.

So whereas regular church attendance among college-educated families has remained more or less the same since the late 1970s, it has fallen by almost a third among families with a high school diploma or less. This disparity has created “a substantial class gap” that did not exist 50 years ago, Putnam declares.

Unsurprisingly, statistics from the Pew Center’s comprehensive 2015 report on religion in America confirmed that most religious “nones” tend to be undereducated, poor, white males, belying the commonly held belief that irreligiosity tends to rise with education and income.

Those who self-identify as religiously unaffiliated tend to be high school-educated white males who earn less than $30,000 a year, the study found.

Among the religiously unaffiliated, only a small portion possesses a college degree, and 45 percent of religious “nothing in particulars” have a high school diploma or less.

At the broader societal level, the advantages of regular church attendance are equally impressive.

The “value of the services provided by religious organizations and the impact religion has on a number of important American businesses” totals $1.2 trillion, according to a recent study by Brian and Melissa Grim of Georgetown University and the Newseum Institute.

While regular church attendance benefits both individuals and society as a whole, the converse is equally true: when fewer people attend church, both individuals and society at large suffer.

One could of course argue that people should worship God without ulterior motives of personal gain or societal advantage.

But for those who are concerned with the future of American society—at the level of individuals, families, local communities and the broader society—the benefits of religion cannot easily be ignored.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.