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Church involvement lends to closer families, community engagement, study indicates

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Nate Maiwald, a friend of the Jones family, stands with Hannahm Dillon, and Tom Jones. Katlin Jones, not pictured, is very involved in the Georgia College BCM. The family has run the race the past three years. ELAINE KIRKLAND/Special Nate Maiwald, a friend of the Jones family, stands with Hannah, Dillon, and Tom Jones. Katlin Jones, not pictured, is very involved in the Georgia College BCM. The family has run a race the past three years raising funds for Georgia Baptist student missionaries. ELAINE KIRKLAND/Special

Turns out, things like fellowship and family are more than just stereotypes among churchgoers.

A new Pew Research study indicates a correlation among the "highly religious" with closeness of extended families, community involvement, and overall happiness. To be considered in that group, one had to say they prayed daily and attended religious services weekly.

While the highly religious typically gather with extended family at least once or twice per month, the study says just three-in-ten of Americans considered less religious do so as frequently. Non-religious survey participants were also twice as likely as the highly religious to answer "seldom" or "never" to how often they attended such gatherings.

In addition, "roughly two-thirds of highly religious adults (65%) say they have donated money, time, or goods to help the poor in the past week, compared with 41% who are less religious. And 40% of highly religious U.S. adults describe themselves as “very happy,” compared with 29% of those who are less religious."

Family connections

In the book Why They Stray, authors Steve Parr and Tom Crites explored the connection between family and children remaining in the church as they grew up. Maintaining active relationships with relatives such as grandparents strong in their faith lays the groundwork for a spiritual nest egg for future generations.

"While, admittedly, the parents carry the greatest weight of responsibility and influence, Christian grandparents possess a deep and natural concern for the spiritual progress, as well as the eternal destiny of the grandkids," Parr, Georgia Baptist Mission Board vice president for Staff Coordination and Development, wrote on his website.

Reasons for the findings could be associated with families gathering for religious holidays or occasions such as baptisms, suggested the Pew study. Less obvious reasons could be construed as well, including the possibility that outgoing personalities like to get together with family and also enjoy the fellowship associated with churches.

Last August, The Washington Post reported on similar findings following a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

“The church appears to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay and also as a coping mechanism during periods of illness in later life,” Mauricio Avendano, an epidemiologist at LSE and an author of the study, said in a statement. “It is not clear to us how much this is about religion per se, or whether it may be about the sense of belonging and not being socially isolated.”

That study of 9,000 Europeans also found that participation in a religious organization was the only common factor among subjects who indicated "sustained happiness." Researchers were unclear as to whether that happiness was connected to being a part of the religious community, or the faith itself.

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