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Going to church leads to longer life

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Anyone who’s sat through a church business meeting might question the notion that attending a house of worship is good for your health, but a recent study out of Vanderbilt University found just that. It turns out attending worship services reduces a person’s mortality risk by an average of fifty-five percent, with the greatest impact felt by those ages forty to sixty-five. Marino Bruce, who helped orchestrate the study, found that those results stayed consistent regardless of a person’s socioeconomic status, health insurance coverage, and a host of other variables.

Bruce believes that the social support one gains by being part of a church, the “feeling that you’re doing good or having empathy towards others,” and “being part of something that’s greater than oneself” are the chief reasons for the added years. The way that those factors often lead to reduced stress is cited as another explanation.

What’s perhaps most interesting, however, is that the results were not restricted to any particular faith. Bruce, who is also a Baptist minister, discovered that the findings were true for “any place where groups gather together to worship. It could be a church, it could be a temple, it could be a mosque . . . It’s not about a particular faith, it’s about any faith.”

So does that mean critics of religion are right and all faiths really are just different paths up the same mountain? In terms of providing the kind of community and other factors that the study cites, perhaps so. But I think that’s more evidence of the fact that all of humanity was created with an innate need to worship God than that the god each faith worships is necessarily the same. There’s just something in us that rejoices in the chance to rejoice in the Lord and that can’t help but feel more whole when we’re in the presence of something holy.

Of course, all worship is not equal no matter how devout it might be. Scripture is clear that the one true God is the only one worthy of our praise and devotion (Exodus 20:1–6). But it’s worth noting that even those who do not yet know him still crave the chance to join others in their attempts at offering praise to something larger than themselves. It is, perhaps, the best evidence we can have this side of heaven that there will always be something missing in our lives if we aren’t taking part in that kind of praise. After all, God’s plans for humanity will ultimately culminate in every knee bowing before him and every tongue offering worship to his name (Romans 14:11).

So the next time God puts it on your heart to invite someone to church, know that there’s a part of that person that truly does crave the chance to say yes. That doesn’t guarantee he or she will, but it’s always nice to remember that the Lord is already at work in the lives of those around us, preparing the way for us to join him in those efforts. A community of faith where we can join others in offering worship to the one true God who loves us more than we can possibly comprehend is woven into the fabric of our very existence. Who is God calling you to help experience that truth this week?