I’ve often wondered why the studies show consistently that going to church lengthens your life and even the quality of your life.
One time I had the privilege of interviewing a sociology professor and author, Dr. Byron Johnson. When I spoke with him, he was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. He went on from there to Princeton and is now at Baylor. He has made a lifetime of studying the impact of religion on society, on health, mental and physical.
He told me something I’ve never forgotten. If you’re white and you go to church regularly, you will live---on average---an extra seven years. If you’re an African-American and you go to church on a regular basis---on average---you will gain an extra 14 years!
These are averages. Obviously, there are exceptions but this statistically significant increase must be reckoned with.
Another study released many years ago was conducted with 5000 people from Alameda, CA over a span of 28 years to determine the long term benefits of attending church. The [Ft. Lauderdale] Sun-Sentinel summarized the findings with this phrase, “Go to church, live longer.”
What factors contribute to this consistent finding? One of them, I believe, is the effect of fellowship. We are designed by God to be social creatures, but we now live in perhaps the most disconnected society in history. Loneliness is the inevitable result--- a new study even finds that loneliness can kill.
Steve Connor wrote an article: “Extreme loneliness worse for health than obesity and can lead to an early grave, scientists say,” which is published in the Independent (UK, 2/16/14).
Connor notes: “Chronic loneliness has been shown to increase the chances of an early grave by 14 per cent, which is as bad as being overweight and almost as bad as poverty in undermining a person’s long-term wellbeing, a study has found.”
The article quotes Professor John Cacioppo, a University of Chicago psychologist, who says, “Retiring to Florida to live in a warmer climate among strangers isn’t necessarily a good idea if it means you are disconnected from the people who mean the most to you.”
Connor also notes: “Research has shown that at any given time between 20 and 40 percent of older adults feel lonely.”
So what does this have to do with active church membership? Quite a bit. Getting involved in a good church can be a real antidote to loneliness. Becoming a Christian actually means joining the largest family in the whole world.