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Does weekly church attendance affect health outcomes

For many people globally, church attendance is an integral part of their lives. They make it a point to be in church, listen to and revere their spiritual advisors.

According to the University of Minnesota (2016), there are many roles that a spiritual advisor plays. A physician or healthcare worker can also act as a spiritual advisor in some cases; however, most health workers prefer spiritual issues to be handled by experts in spirituality.

In some advanced jurisdictions, the work of a Chaplain in primary healthcare delivery is to oversee the spiritual needs of patients, usually in a hospital or clinic. In these countries, Chaplains who deliver spiritual services within the primary healthcare system are mandated to have some advanced educational credentials apart from their normal theological training.

Prayer as Complementary Medicine

Empirical studies have proven that prayer can be employed as complementary medicine to improve the quality of life of the patient (Obu & Aggrey-Bluwey, 2021).

The National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) examined the use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in a population sample of 31, 000 people in the US.

The data showed that 36% of people use CAM. When the prayer was included in the definition of CAM, the statistic increased to 62%. Almost half of the respondents used prayer for their own health (43%), some sought the prayer of others (24%), and a smaller number participated in prayer groups that focused specifically on personal health issues (10%).

Compared with other practices such as transcendental meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong and reiki, prayer was by far the most popular alternative form of therapy.

Another study by McCaffrey et al., (2004) of Harvard Medical School indicated that a third of adults used prayer in addition to conventional medical care for specific health-related problems.

Of the 35% of respondents who used prayer for health concerns, 75% prayed for wellness and 22% prayed for specific health conditions. Of those who prayed, 70% reported prayer to be very helpful. The authors of the study noted that while prayer for health concerns was a highly prevalent practice, patients rarely discussed the use of prayer with their doctors.

Prayer: What is it?

The word “prayer” comes from the Latin word precarious, which means “obtained by begging, to entreat.” O’Mathuna (1999) is of the opinion that Christian understanding of prayer, which includes an answer to prayer, is dependent on the power and will of God, not that of the petitioners.

Prayer, Church Attendance and Quality of Life

Scholars, over the past couple of years, are now of the assertion that weekly church attendance puts people on healthy grounds. A case in point is one study in the United States which demonstrates that prayer adds 2 or 3 years to one’s life (Hall, 2006).

Another study also found a 7-year difference in life expectancy at age 20 between those who never attended church and those who attended church more than once a week (Nam, & Ellison, 1999). Further evidence suggests that religious obedience boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure (Koenig & Cohen, 2004; Woods, Antoni, Ironson, & Kling, 1999). The variable that affirmed this on health is church attendance (Shahabi, & Thoresen, 2003).

Scholars have argued that the positive effects of church attendance on health may be due to social support, operationalized as an increase in social networks and more supportive social relationships (Ellison & George, 2002) or to the healthy behaviors of people more cautious not to drink, take drugs, or have casual sex (Clarke, Beeghley, & Cochran, 1990).

Diverse mechanisms demonstrate some scientific support: cognitive outcomes that enable emotional coping efforts (Smiley, & Gonzalez, 1988; Sharp, 2010) and, in general, a sense of meaning and coherence (Ellison, 1991).

Luhrmann (2013) agrees that there is increasing evidence that the way God is understood also affects health outcomes. An empirical study further proved that people who reported that they experienced God as close and loving also reported significantly fewer psychiatric symptoms compared to those who reported that they experienced God as not approving and unforgiving, or creating and judging (Galek, & Koenig, 2010).

Take Home

We found that there is a role of prayer, spirituality and church attendance in healthcare and improving patient health outcomes, and this phenomenon needs to be explored to improve patients’ quality of life.

Columnist: College of holistic medicine



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