When I was in my early 20s, I was attending college, but not church…not so much. Raised in the church, like too many other young adults, I had slipped away, not having a firm hold on Jesus as my Friend and Redeemer. I simply knew the habit or custom of going to church. Therefore, as a young adult, prayer and spirituality briefly ceased to have meaning for me. Yet, I would drive all the way over the bridge between San Diego and Coronado (I was a student at San Diego State University) and slip into the pews of Christ Church Episcopal in Coronado, California.
There, I had memorized verses and prayers as a little girl, and there, I would get on my knees, and pray. There was something in that place that I so missed, something that comforted me more than anything else in the world. I could feel it in the dimly lit sanctuary, though I couldn’t name it at the time. I hungered for God. Prayer and spirituality brought healing to me. Once I grasped that, I would never leave it again.
The findings from a recent Gallup Poll on mental health
I felt moved to write about attending church today because I heard about the Gallup Poll just released on mental health in 2020. The headline from Gallup is “Americans’ Mental Health Ratings Sink to New Low.”
In this tough year, so many people have struggled and addiction is rising, suicide is rising, etc. People have been restrained from going to work and school. Businesses, particularly small ones, have failed. There have been lots of deaths. Many people are deeply hurting.
But the hidden headline of these Gallup findings needs to be highlighted. The one group that showed improved mental health in 2020 over 2019 were those that attend church weekly. Only ONE group – weekly church attenders.
Why is Weekly Church Attendance So Helpful?
I recognize that many reading this may have a church that has been closed. And some will feel that it is not safe to be attending church right now. I understand those situations beyond our control and I understand concerns for health and being cooperative with officials.
But many have been able to continue to be in their church buildings each week and others regularly are “attending services” online. We’re doing the best we can! I just want to explore in this article why the church attenders group is the only one who came out better in mental health ratings in 2020. It’s important to know that beyond the present moment.
What Weekly Church Attendance is Not
The first thing to say is that going to church every week is not a “good luck charm.” Secondly, by going to a service every week, we are not “checking off a box” of things we ought to do. And thirdly, we are not “keeping God off our backs.” It is none of these things!!
Rather, I think we receive seven wonderful gifts/blessings from going to church every week and it’s those that I want to talk about.
1. We Encounter God’s Presence
First, if a person goes to a church service every week, clearly there’s something important about it to them. Many people choose to go now and then or to just be a part of the “C & E group” – the Christmas and Easter attendees. In that latter group, they like the big gala atmosphere of those special times of year.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Those special services are beautiful and uplifting, and, at least, they are coming to a service. The hope is that they would encounter God in such a way that they would be moved to come back again and again and give their life to Him.
No, if a person attends church every week there is something of very great value to them there. For some, yes, they may feel a stern sense of duty. “I have to do this.” But for most who find themselves unable to miss a service, it is often because they richly encounter the presence of God in the services. They sense His nearness through the songs, the sermon, the Bible passages read, and they enjoy God. They feel His love, truth, and power. Each week, yet again, they are transformed by His love and His nearness.
Related: How to Recognize God’s Presence
2. We Get a Greater Sense of Purpose
And being near God, hearing His Word in songs and scripture, and in sermons, gets people refreshed with a sense of a higher purpose. They know that God is “going after” each and every human being, working to save a broken and fallen world. Sensing God’s ultimate plan to bring a new heaven and a new earth, to cause people to be made over in His image and to be restored, strengthens people. They gain resolve to be a part of the goodness of God’s merciful plan.
They look forward to the some day expressed in this passage:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people and God Himself will be with them and be their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21:3-4
3. We Cleanse Our Minds of Negativity
In the Bible we hear that God’s word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
All this verse means is that when we are weighted down with bitterness, loneliness, anxiety, unforgiveness, and so on, the word of God helps us. A scripture (whether read from the Bible, sung in a song, or explained by a pastor) is a means of showing us a better way. What we encounter in church prompts us to ask forgiveness for ourselves. It causes us to change our attitudes, enables us to forgive others, and so on. We hear truth and lay down lies about who we are and what we can hope for.
Our minds are washed by the words we hear in church.
4. There Are Health Benefits to Praying
Prayer and spirituality comfort and calm us, but the health benefits of these activities are even greater than that. Many people actually receive healing and miracles in their lives by praying in church services or by gathering with others before or after a service for prayer.
A number of churches offer times at the altar to pray during or after a service where one can receive personal ministry. And, there are many times in a service where the gathered people may pray together out loud or silently, or listen to the prayer of a leader praying over them.
Prayer changes things and countless people have experienced physical, emotional, and spiritual healing by being prayed for during church worship services. Others have encountered healing just by being in a worship service, even without personal prayer.
5. Our Spirits Are Uplifted
I often know that I have been in a really powerful and uplifting service by how I feel as I leave. I call it my “I want to get on the phone and talk to everyone I know and love” feeling. By this, I mean the service has so stirred my heart to positivity and joy, that I just want to go out and connect with everyone and keep that feeling of love going. I also want brunch! Ha!
Church does that for people – lifts them up out of the blues, out of despair, frees them from loneliness.
Yes, I know people can be hurt in churches. I have been deeply hurt in church. But, churches are filled with people and people make mistakes. They are at different levels of maturity.
Even if you have been hurt, find a way to heal and deal with the wounds, knowing that God would have you be a regular attender again. He even says it in His word:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…Hebrews 10:23-25
6. Enabled to Overcome Difficulties
The messages we hear in church so often give us courage. We hear stories of people who struggle, but with God’s help, overcome. Those stories may be of biblical characters or from the life of the person sitting next to us. But hearing that God helps us to be overcomers, that He fights for us, gives us renewed courage and hope.
7. We Have the Support of Others
Finally, by attending church regularly, we get to know the other people in the church. And, we get the opportunity to encourage and comfort them as they do the same for us.
Churches so often have multiple projects for helping others. When we need help, our church can find ways to provide it. Or, we can, in turn, help others and provide resources for those in need.
I think of a beautiful story from my church that just occurred. A woman showed up at our resource center because she needed food. Those needs were met by church members working at the resource center. But, while they helped her, they learned that her brother was out of work. Upon finding out what his type of work is, one of the resource center volunteers said, “I can help him find a new job. That’s my field too.”
Sure enough, in short order, the woman’s brother was once again employed. How good God is!
So, if you have drifted from church as I did as a young college student, I pray you will find your way back.
If church has never been a part of your life, I pray that you might go and explore it – maybe with a friend who is a church member.
And for all of us I pray, that you will know our God who “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen! (Ephesians 3:20-21)
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