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The Dollar Value of Attending Church

Is attending church really worth your time? Yes, quite literally so according to one researcher. A recent issue of the distinguished magazine The Economist had an article on Wealth from Worship which looked at the surprising rewards of frequent church attendance. It seems that Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that doubling your church attendance will raise your income by 10 percent.

            The article told of Gruber's further claims that, “regular religious participation leads to better education, higher income and a lower chance of divorce.” Attending church more frequently for the purpose of increasing your earning potential may be cutting against the grain, but I found the article intriguing as it pushed the data further to ask “Why?”

The primary question is whether those who attend church more frequently are already those who are better educated and have a higher income. Or is this data the result of a cause-effect relationship between church attendance and a better standard of living?

Gruber cites three reasons he finds that more church attendance can result in monetary gain:

1) Church attendance creates a web of relationships within the larger community which brings with it social capital, making business deals easier to pull off.

This is not too surprising as many people have elected to go to church to help get better known in their community. This seems to be less true in recent years as church attendance has come to no longer be required to be a respected member of the community. Though most political candidates will readily publish to which church they belong, so maybe this point still holds.

2) Those who attend church regularly also have mutual emotional and (in times of distress) financial support that allows quicker recovery from problems.

This point hits on one of a church’s greatest strengths when it is at its best. But for this web of support to work, everyone in the church has to reach out to one another in times of need. A pastor alone can not offer that extra support needed in times of grief, or job loss, or other long-term concerns. That type of support needs to come from more of the church body as well.

3) Lastly, Gruber posits that regular church attendees are more able to succeed due to being less stressed than their non-church going neighbors.

I know that many people talk about the peace that regular worship brings to their lives. This is not an afterlife-focused hope, but peace in the here and now that helps you get more centered to deal with the day to day stresses you face.

One time when a group was telling my boss (the Bishop) about the peace they had found through King of Peace Church, I quipped that next time I would start a church called, “King of Prosperity.” But I know that Jesus never claimed to bring prosperity, but he did offer peace beyond understanding. And the peace found at our church is found in more than 100 churches in this county, because the source is not a church in itself, but the God we worship in those churches.

While the 10 percent boost in earnings sounds a bit dubious, I find the three cause and effect relationships Gruber cites in his research to be more convincing. I have seen first hand the benefits people get in terms of emotional support and a relief from stress. And I know that gaining social capital still has validity. Even if gaining a wider network to boost your business seems to be a more self-serving motive, it is certainly part of a cause-effect relationship that benefits those who attend church more frequently.

Gruber never cited the reason that cause most people to increase their church attendance. For many, going to church more often is due to a hunger to find out more about the God who loving created all that is and yet still wants to know each of us personally.

All of these benefits are something that just can’t be captured by CEOs (Christmas and Easter Only attendees). Nurturing your relationship with God while building a network of support and finding peace as well as meaning and purpose takes time. Attending a church just here and there will not usually get you connected enough to benefit like regular attendance does. That is what I have seen as a pastor and what Gruber documented in his research. Making the time to nurture the spiritual side of your life may or may not bring you more dollars, but it definitely makes sense.

(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church.)

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