This is an interesting question that has been debated for a long time. On one hand, those who regularly attend religious services often claim it helps provide meaning, community, values, and networking opportunities that contribute to success. However, critics argue that correlation does not necessarily equal causation, and other factors beyond church attendance may contribute more significantly to success.
Potential benefits of church attendance
Here are some of the potential ways that being an active member of a church could contribute to success:
Sense of meaning and purpose
Attending religious services and participating in a faith community provides a framework to make sense of the world for many people. Having a sense of meaning and purpose in life is linked to several positive outcomes related to wellbeing and satisfaction. This sense of meaning or higher purpose could provide motivation to work hard and achieve.
Community and relationships
Churches provide built-in communities for their members. Developing friendships, mentorships, and social ties through a church community can provide social and emotional support. It can also create opportunities for meeting influential people or finding jobs through connections.
In addition to personal relationships, churches often provide more formal networking opportunities like mixers or business ministries. The shared identity and values of being part of the same church community can facilitate mutually beneficial professional relationships.
Values and character development
Most religions promote values like integrity, hard work, discipline, and perseverance. Actively participating in a church and religious teachings could help instill positive values that contribute to drive and character. This can increase the likelihood of success.
Hope and optimism
Faith and religious belief can provide a hopeful, positive perspective about life and the future. This optimism could lead to greater resilience in the face of challenges and more motivation to work toward goals.
A belief that God or a higher power actively guides and supports one’s efforts can inspire confidence and tenacity. The view that talent and success ultimately come from God could also help reduce anxiety and maintain motivation.
Potential limitations of church attendance
However, there are also reasons why active church membership may not directly lead to increased success:
CORRELATION, not CAUSATION
Many studies show a correlation between religious service attendance and various measures of success like income, educational attainment, or longevity. But correlation does not prove causation. There could be other underlying reasons why churchgoers experience more success.
For example, religious attendance could be a proxy for personality traits like conscientiousness that also lead to greater success. Or perhaps people drawn to regular religious practice tend to place a higher value on community, tradition, and social norms—all of which may independently correlate with higher achievement.
Individuals who are already motivated, optimistic, and future-oriented may be more inclined to actively participate in religious services. So the churchgoing population may be “pre-selected” for certain traits and dispositions that drive success, regardless of their religious involvement.
Religion does not guarantee ethical behavior
While most faiths promote virtuous values, professing a religion obviously does not guarantee moral behavior. There are plenty of cases where highly religious individuals act unethically. Being an active churchgoer does not automatically make someone more honest, compassionate, disciplined, or hardworking. So any direct effect of church attendance on these success-driving traits may not be as straightforward as assumed.
Downsides of religious community
While churches aim to foster community, they can also promote tribal “in-group” versus “out-group” thinking. This could result in hostility or lack of empathy toward other groups, which some argue is antithetical to truly successful leadership and relationships. The demands of religious community participation could also take time and resources away from other professional or educational advancement pursuits.
Alternate paths to purpose and ethics
It’s undeniable that faith provides purpose, hope, and morality for many people. However, these same strengths can be developed through secular communities, philosophy, psychology, art, nature, humanitarianism, and other soul-nurturing pursuits. Not everyone needs religion to live an optimistic, principled, meaningful life and reach their full potential.
What does the data say?
Now that we’ve explored potential pros and cons, what does research data actually reveal about how church attendance may or may not contribute to success? Let’s look at some telling statistics.
|Church attendance frequency
|Average household income (2019)
|A few times per year
|Once or twice a month
|Once a week
|More than once a week
Source: Pew Research Center
This data shows a clear correlation between frequency of religious service attendance and household income level in the U.S. However, it’s impossible to ascertain whether church attendance causes higher earning, or if higher earners simply attend church more frequently.
|Percentage who attend religious services weekly or more
|Less than high school
Interestingly, this shows people with lower levels of educational attainment attend religious services more frequently. Once again, there are a few possible interpretations:
1. Religious involvement interferes with educational progress.
2. People pursue education as an alternate source of meaning and community.
3. Selection factors draw people seeking community tradition to church rather than higher education.
4. The relationship is more complex and bidirectional.
More research is needed to untangle causation. But the data clearly disproves the notion that regular religious attendance and higher education levels go hand-in-hand.
Several studies show people who attend religious services tend to live longer. One meta-analysis found that adults who attended any kind of religious service more than once a week lived 33% longer than those who never attended. They had a 55% lower chance of dying over the study periods.
However, the authors note this association weakened over time from the 19th to 20th century. As public health and lifestyle improved, the “mortality gap” between churchgoers and others diminished. This indicates religious activity does not affect mortality as strongly when other basic health determinants are present.
Multiple studies correlate more frequent religious service attendance with fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, better self-reported mental health, and lower suicide rates. However, some scholars argue this mental health advantage stems mainly from the social support of religious communities rather than theology itself. Research shows non-religious group membership and support provides similar mental health benefits.
Studies show people who regularly attend religious services have fewer alcohol problems, use illegal drugs less often, and are less likely to smoke. Some religions directly prohibit alcohol and smoking. But again, active churchgoers may have personality traits or community reinforcement that lead to healthier lifestyle choices for reasons separate from religious beliefs.
The data demonstrates that people who frequently participate in religious services experience indicators of wellbeing like longer lifespan, higher income, better mental health, and healthier habits when compared to non-attenders. However, there are good reasons to doubt churchgoing directly causes these outcomes. Confounding variables related to community, personality, and pre-existing conditions likely mediate the relationships observed.
While church attendance does not inherently guarantee success, joining any socially supportive community that instills positive values, purpose, and a healthy lifestyle can certainly contribute to a flourishing life. But these benefits are not exclusive to religious contexts. Furthermore, “success” is subjective and multi-faceted. More research is needed to determine if and how religious participation may positively influence specific aspects of wellbeing and achievement over time.
Benefits associated with churchgoing:
- Higher income levels
- Longer lifespan
- Better mental health
- Healthier behaviors
Limitations of the data:
- Does not prove causation
- Selection factors may influence results
- Alternate sources can provide similar benefits