It is not an overstatement to say the COVID pandemic has significantly disrupted the daily routines of Americans and not only ours but of those around the world. Businesses have closed, possibly permanently, and work habits have changed and some of those may have changed permanently. And there may be shortages during the upcoming holiday season because of the pandemic.
Churches have not been immune from the pandemic itself or its effects. Depending on their individual circumstances churches have cancelled in person services for varying periods of times, but many have begun having in person services again.
Prior to the pandemic church attendance had been in decline as our culture becomes more secular. Even with the decline prior to the pandemic, church attendance lags behind pre-pandemic numbers and some wonder if the church will be able to regain lost ground.
Some have suggested that the pandemic was used by God to winnow out nominal Christians, those who are believers in name only. While that may have been an effect, I am reticent to say that was God’s intent.
Gallup and Barna Group have statistically documented the decline in church attendance and membership for decades, the reason for the decline is not tracked as easily. While various scandals have wracked the church as an institution, they do not appear to be the reason.
“The most common experience of Christians who don’t go to church seems to be less a deliberate choice and more a substitution of habits … a large share of Christians are opting to go it alone,” says one article. But there is some research that suggests there are benefits to church attendance.
The Nurses’ Health Study followed the behaviors of 70,000 health care workers for more than a decade and a half.
The study showed those who attended church services regularly were, “29 percent less likely to become depressed, about 50 percent less likely to divorce, and five times less likely to commit suicide than those who never attended” and “the most striking finding of all,” those “who attended services weekly were 33 percent less likely to die.”
Similar research shows a “religious upbringing profoundly affects lifelong health and well-being … regular service attendance helps shield children from the ‘big three’ dangers of adolescence: depression, substance abuse, and premature sexual activity.”
Newer studies of health care professionals indicate religious service attenders had fewer ‘deaths of despair,’ deaths by suicide, drug overdose or alcohol.”
A host 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.”
Clearly there are dangers in going “it alone.” The scriptural exhortation of “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near,” Hebrews 10:25, should have renewed relevance.