Weekly church attendance leads to better physical, mental health


Looking to keep the doctor away? A weekly church visit may do more than an apple a day.

Harvard Public Health article highlights numerous studies demonstrating the overall health benefits of regular church attendance.

Tyler VanderWeele, professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, notes that public health advice and textbooks for would-be doctors often ignore the benefits of religious attendance. “The standard narrative for the neglect sometimes seems to be that ‘there is not actually that much research around the impact of spirituality on health.’ This, however, is simply not the case,” he writes.

Citing numerous studies and analyses, VanderWeele argues that the evidence suggests weekly religious service attendance is associated with “lower mortality risk, lower depression, less suicide, better cardiovascular disease survival, better health behaviors, and greater marital stability, happiness, and purpose in life.”

While this is good news for churchgoers, fewer Americans are gaining this benefit today compared to years past. More Americans say they never attend religious services (31%) than say they attend every week (21%), according to Gallup. Protestants are more likely to attend weekly. Still, only 30% say they’re at church each week, and 14% say they’re there almost weekly.

The decline in worship service attendance has influenced how churches define a regular churchgoer. Pastors are more lax with the definition than churchgoers.

For those who attend at least monthly, 59% say someone has to attend weekly or more to be a regular churchgoer, and 12% say at least three times a month. Among pastors, 16% say a regular churchgoer must attend weekly or more, while 15% say at least three times a month.

Meanwhile, the health benefits of church attendance may be why pastors grade their health higher than the average American. While pastors have responsibilities connected with worship services that aren’t shared by others, they still may gain from their involvement.

Obviously, physical health benefits should not be the primary motivation for followers of Christ to become involved in a local congregation. Christians should regularly attend worship services out of obedience and a desire to know God and His people better. But that doesn’t mean this information can’t encourage those who remain on the fringes or need extra motivation to stay involved.

“Looking at the data we have on religious participation and health, it seems reasonable to encourage those who already identify with a religious tradition to participate in communal religious life,” wrote VanderWeele. Health officials ignoring this data means they “are neglecting an important health resource, and will be leaving the population in poorer health.”

The epidemiology professor argued, “It is time for the neglect of religion in public health conversations to change.”