How Church Makes People Happy (It’s Not What You Think)

1

HappyNew research
reveals the latest path to better health and well being. Go to
church.

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But the true link to the health benefits may not be what you
expect.

Gallup found that people who regularly go to church make better
health choices, experience fewer daily negative emotions, and are
less likely to be diagnosed with depression. And the very religious
are more likely to eat healthy foods, exercise more frequently, and
generally experience higher life satisfaction.

Great! So, shall we advertise that sitting through an hour at
church each Sunday will make everyone healthier? Not so fast, said
the researchers.

It turns out that it’s not really worship routines that
correlate to better health and wellbeing. Actually, it’s friends.
Churchgoers are happier and healthier because of their church
friends. And church friends lead to greater life satisfaction than
friends outside of church.

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But churchgoers who have no friends at church are less happy
than those who do not go to church at all.

LEARNING FROM THE FINDINGS

Though few churches would say health and wellbeing are their
primary ministry goals, these are certainly desirable side
benefits. And though the Gallup study did not measure spiritual
growth in this research, an earlier Gallup/Group study did find
links between friendships and faith. We discovered that 74% of
those with good church friends say their faith is involved in every
aspect of their life. But only 54% of those without a best friend
at church say the same thing.

Knowing how church friends affect wellbeing and faith, we must
wonder how well churches are intentionally seizing this benefit.
Yes, I know every church says it’s friendly, offers groups, hosts
occasional meals and events, and so on.

But what about the “main event” of the week-the weekly worship
service-the time when most people make their only connection to the
church? How well do most churches encourage and facilitate
friendship during and around that time? Some would boast they prod
worshippers to “meet and greet” for the obligatory 60-second
handshake frenzy each week. But everybody in the pews knows that
ritual has little to do with friendship.

If we want to encourage more friendship, we’ll need to devote
some real time and attention to it. Provide times-during the
worship hour-for meaningful conversation. Let people talk with one
another about how God is working in their lives. Pose thoughtful
questions for people to respond to with two or three others around
them. Encourage interaction. Break out of the spectator emphasis of
the American church experience.

To be honest, I used to be bothered when I observed the ushers
gathering and chatting in the lobby during the singing on Sunday
morning. But now, after seeing the true friendship-and faith-that
those guys share, I think maybe I’ll apply for my usher badge.

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About Author

Thom Schultz

Thom Schultz is an eclectic author and the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. Holy Soup offers innovative approaches to ministry, and challenges the status quo of today’s church.

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