How to Head Off a Public Health Crisis

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25)

A recent Christianity today article entitled Empty Church Pews are an American Public Health Crisis surveys worship attendance trends and the (quite severe) practical implications of this.  For several decades now, church attendance, involvement, and membership has been declining.

Barna Group found that 10 years ago, in 2011, 43 percent of Americans said they went to church every week. By February of 2020, that had dropped 14 percentage points to 29 percent.

This process was only accelerated through the Covid-19 pandemic we’ve all lived through.  Our culture has moved away from church involvement, and this isn’t good for spiritual life.  Nor is it good in a host of other ways:

A number of large, well-designed research studies have found that religious service attendance is associated with greater longevity, less depression, less suicide, less smoking, less substance abuse, better cancer and cardiovascular-disease survival, less divorce, greater social support, greater meaning in life, greater life satisfaction, more volunteering and greater civic engagement. 

That’s quite a list!  People often view religion as disconnected from real world, practical concerns. The saints are often considered to be too heavenly minded to be any earthly good – but the research shows just the opposite.  The most heavenly minded are those experiencing the most practical real world benefits in a host of areas.

And this isn’t due only to the social benefits to be found in a corporate gathering. Consider:

Only about a quarter of the effect of service attendance on life expectancy seems to come directly from greater social support; some of the effect appears to depend on the way religious observance decreases depression and smoking and increases optimism, hope, and sense of purpose.

The benefits of gathering together are manifold.  Let us not neglect meeting together!