As a committed follower of Jesus, I’ve gone to church literally my whole life. My parents took me when I was a kid. I wanted to go as an adult. And in another sense, it’s good that I still go. After all, I am a pastor.
Most believers understand that church attendance does (or should) help us grow spiritually. But did you know that God wired our bodies and brains to benefit from both attending church and developing a healthy spiritual life?
Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg notes that since 2000, over 400 papers have been published each year on this topic. Consider these ways science shows us that church attendance benefits both brain and body.
First, two caveats.
- I’m assuming your church is a Bible-based, grace-filled place. If your church atmosphere is legalistic, harsh and overall condemning, it can actually harm your body and brain.
- These studies don’t necessarily show a causal relationship (attending church causes such benefits). Rather, most of the studies show a correlation. That is, attending church and these benefits are closely related. Nevertheless, science continues to discover more body and brain benefits from walking with Christ and being with his people.
1. It decreases stress.
The stress hormone, cortisol, is released by the adrenal glands that lie on top of our kidneys. Good stress (eustress) helps us keep motivated and alert. So cortisol is not all bad. But prolonged stress that keeps unhealthy high cortisol levels in our body damages both it and our brains. Heart problems, a dampened immune system and diminished memory result from prolonged stress. However, church attendance can decrease the stress response, thus decreasing the amount of cortisol in your body.
2. It increases the trust hormone, oxytocin.
Oxytocin is one of the “feel-good” brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters). If the church you attend is filled with kind and caring people, your brain will release this chemical, helping you bond with others. Biblical community is really good for you.
3. It may thicken your brain.
One brain study discovered that those who place a high value on spirituality (though not necessarily tied to church attendance) showed thickening in some brain areas. Many other studies now show that reflective and contemplative spiritual practices grow several parts of your brain.
4. It can help lessen depression.
A group of Canadian researchers discovered that those who attended church more regularly experienced less depression. They surmised that social support made the difference resulting in people being more resilient (see No. 2 above).
5. It may help you live longer.
One study showed that attending church increased the lifespan for whites by an average of 7 years and potentially 14 years for African-Americans. The more people go to church, the less likely they are to die sooner than those who don’t go to church.
6. Church attenders commit suicide less often, deal with pain better, have less cardiovascular problems and recover quicker from surgery.
A final word: We follow Christ not because of the pragmatic benefits, like taking aspirin for a headache. We follow him because he created us with a soul thirst that can only be quenched in him. However, when we do turn to Jesus and his body, he gives us some nice brain and body benefits, as well.
So the next time you are in church, thank God for these brain and body benefits. What other practical benefits have you experienced from attending church?