It's Not the Sermon, Stupid

Last week I blogged about a Gallop Poll study that suggested that religious Americans have a higher level of feeling of overall well-being. To quote the poll, “Americans who are very religious have higher wellbeing than those who are less religious, a relationship that holds even after controlling for several related demographic and geographic variables.” You can read my blog here and the Gallop article here.

Well, today MSNBC reports on another study, this one published in the professional journal American Sociological Review, suggests that “religious people gain life satisfaction thanks to social networks they build by attending religious services.” The article noted that studies like the Gallop one I mentioned always suffered from a chicken-and-egg type problem. Religious people do seem to be more happy and have a greater sense of well-being, but does religion make people happy or do happy people become religious? And, as one person posted on my blog, is this well-being “a psychological result rather than a spiritual reward?”

According to the article today, what makes people happier and gives them a higher sense of well-being is the social connection between people who are linked by a common identity and a sense of community within something they feel is important. Here’s the quote-

We think it has something to do with the fact that you meet a group of close friends on a regular basis, together as a group, and participate in certain activities that are meaningful to the group… At the same time, they share a certain social identity, a sense of belonging to a moral faith community. The sense of belonging seems to be the key to the relationship between church attendance and life satisfaction.

What gives church people this sense of well-being is social interactions within a community that matters. The title of the article is “Church-Goers Tend to be Happier People.” The tagline is “It's not the sermon — it's the socializing that's the key, new study shows.” (I guess I should be thankful it wasn't, "It's not the sermon, stupid.") I would argue that the sermon and worship gives the Christian gathering its identity as “a moral faith community.” But fellowship within the community of faith is a powerful force. It was meant to be. The Hebrew writer reminds that the power of the Christian assembly is the assembly—

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (Heb 10:24–25, NLT).

Actually there is very little said about exactly what we are to do when we come together. Yes, there are those “five acts of worship” I grew up hearing about, but no text discusses them as such or tells us exactly how to go about them. Paul discuss some things the church at Corinth did-- “When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said.” (1 Cor 14:26, NLT). But that verse ends with his main point in context, “But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.” The point of coming together is coming together to be strengthened together. Can’t we worship God alone? Of course!  Not only CAN we do so, you SHOULD be doing so. But the point of the assembly is the assembly, the power of mutual edification and encouragement.

I’m glad this study confirms that religious people have a higher sense of well-being and thet it comes from them meeting together in a community of faith. But then, I already knew that.