“One of the most striking scientific discoveries about religion in recent years is that going to church weekly is good for you.” So wrote Stanford University professor of anthropology T.M. Luhrmann in an op-ed piece in the New York Times a few years ago.
We didn’t discuss any scientific research this week in our small group on Wednesday night, but we did talk about the importance of being actively connected to “church.” That includes both the large group congregational worship gathering on a Sunday morning, and also the vitally important small group where we know and are known, and where we have the privilege of bearing one another’s burdens. In a roundabout way, we came to our own scientific conclusions that church is good for all of us.
In the Times column, Luhrmann mentioned several studies that show that religious attendance boosts the immune system, decreases blood pressure, and may add as much as two to three years to your life. The reason for those findings was not entirely clear.
But three things in the article were clear. First, the social support regular church-goers find in their communities of faith is a key indicator of good health. At the evangelical churches she studied as an anthropologist, Luhrmann was surprised how much people really did seem to look out for one another. She also cited a study conducted in North Carolina that found that those who were regularly connected to their churches had larger social networks, with more contact with, more affection for, and more kinds of social support from those people than their unchurched counterparts. And sociological research consistently has shown that social support is directly tied to better health.
Another obvious benefit of regular church involvement is that the moral choices associated with religious observance lead to healthy behavior, which leads to healthier lives. Certainly many churchgoers struggle with behaviors they would like to change, but on average, regular church attendees drink less, smoke less, use fewer recreational drugs and are less sexually promiscuous than others. Actuary tables for insurance companies figured that out a long time ago. It’s no secret that certain habits are more expensive to insure, because those choices have consequences for our health.
A third aspect of Luhrmann’s research was what we as believers have known all along: knowing and loving God tends to have a direct positive effect on our psychological and emotional health, and make us better able to cope with the pressures of life. In other words, you can’t measure “God” scientifically, but you sure can see the effects in the lives of those who know Him and are regularly involved with His family.
So, what’s the point? Well, I am tempted to reference the old I-65 sign in Prattville that most of us are familiar with: “Go to church, or the devil will get you.” But I will phrase it another way: “When you are in a vibrant relationship with God, and regularly connected in interdependent relationships with His people, life is better.” Or maybe this: “Church: It does a body good.”
Of course, we didn’t need an anthropologist or the New York Times to tell us that. Scripture has been reminding us that for centuries.
I hope you make the healthy choice and join us for worship this Sunday at Shelby Crossings.