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U.S. Surgeon General: ‘Health May be Undermined’ by Not Going to Church

By Ben Johnson
health
The Biden administration has warned that Americans’ “health may be undermined” due to their “decline in participation” in religious services. (Photo: Pixabay)

In a recent official government report, the Biden administration has warned that Americans’ “health may be undermined” due to their “decline in participation” in church services and other religious activities.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued the first-ever government advisory on the “epidemic of loneliness and isolation” earlier this month, calling persistent isolation an “urgent public health issue” that impacts the physical and mental health of millions. “Research shows that loneliness and isolation are associated with a greater risk of heart disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death,” says Murthy in an online video released to coincide with the report.

Loneliness is as bad for individuals as smoking 15 cigarettes a day — a pack-and-a-half daily habit — and harms physical health “even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity,” the report notes.

Unfortunately, Murthy writes, Americans have become disconnected from one of the institutions that can forge deep and permanent social connections: church attendance. “Religious or faith-based groups can be a source for regular social contact, serve as a community of support, provide meaning and purpose, create a sense of belonging around shared values and beliefs, and are associated with reduced risk-taking behaviors,” Murthy writes. “As a consequence of this decline in participation, individuals’ health may be undermined in different ways.”

“Membership in organizations that have been important pillars of community connection have declined significantly,” including “faith organizations,” writes Murthy. “In 2020, only 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque. This is down from 70% in 1999 and represents a dip below 50% for the first time in the history of the survey question.”

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Experts have known about the fraying web of meaningful personal relationships for decades. For instance, the percentage of American men who said they have no close friends had increased 500% between 1990 and 2021. But a persistent sense of abandonment reached societal proportions during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Church attendance and health issues have an inverse relationship, according to multiple studies, including a new report released by evangelical pollster George Barna.

The percentage of millennials who attended a church worship service, either in-person or online, dropped by seven percentage points over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, says the study from the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University (ACU), where Barna is director of research.

The retreat from faith has devastated young people, Barna told “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” recently.

Separate ACU polls found that 75% of millennials “say, ‘I don’t know why I should get out of bed in the morning,’” said Barna. A majority “admit that every day they’re struggling with mental health issues, severe depression, anxiety, fear,” and “the highest suicide rate of any generation we’ve ever seen.”

That’s roughly the percentage of millennials who do not attend religious services: Only 28% take part in services in any way.

Conversely, Americans who believe in God and value marriage are more likely to be “very happy” than isolated secularists, according to a Wall Street Journal-NORC poll taken in March.

Young adults’ isolation persists despite the fact that millennials desperately yearn for meaningful social interactions at a core level. “They believe that relationships are vitally important. They want to be connected. They want to belong. They want to be part of a community,” Barna told Perkins. “But they say it’s not working. It’s not happening.”

In part, Americans became disconnected from churches, at least in part, because of government policies shutting down churches during COVID.

“The last three years have been a time of high anxiety for tens of millions of adults. It was an ideal time for the Christian church to provide wise guidance and emotional calm. Unfortunately, most churches agreed to the government’s dictate that they close their doors and remain mostly silent,” says Barna in a statement accompanying the ACU’s research.

“Obviously, that has not worked out so well,” Barna observes.

Church closures were among the most contested measures in the fight against COVID-19. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Millennials were not the only demographic to give up congregational worship. Generation X saw their church attendance fall 13 points, from 41% to 28%. Although 53% of the oldest American generation attends church, that’s a three-point drop from 2020. Only Baby Boomers became “more likely now than they were before COVID-19 to read the Bible, praise and worship God, seek and do God’s will, and attend church services,” says the report.

During the pandemic, “every generation turns to their worldview to navigate the challenges,” says Barna. “As a nation, we may be past the danger of COVID-19, but we’re in the thick of the danger brought about by people relying upon syncretism as their dominant worldview. Biblical churches must see this as a time for an urgent response to the direction society is taking.”

The surgeon general is not the first to find that frequenting a church increases longevity and improves overall health. “[A]ttendance at religious services had a dose-response relationship with mortality, such that respondents who attended frequently had a 40% lower hazard of mortality,” wrote researchers at Emory University in a 2017 research paper.

The correlation between a strong faith and psychological well-being is well-attested by social science. “Young-adult Gen-Xers in the strongly religious class across the three measurements generally reported better mental health when they reached established adulthood than those in the nonreligious class,” reported a 2022 study by a team of analysts from Syracuse University. “Findings suggest that religiosity may serve as an important resource for mental health in the transition to established adulthood.”

vivek murthy surgeon general health
Dr. Vivek Murthy serves as the 21st Surgeon General of the United States. (Video screengrab)

Barna says this is a perfect time for the church to proclaim the Christian message, for Americans’ spiritual and physical health. The Bible encourages deep connections to fellow believers across the boundaries of time, space, and culture. Scriptural anthropology begins with the observation that “it is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). The New Testament exhorts Christians to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

“While the Left pursues the Great Reset, it is time for the Church to pursue the Great Renewal — leading people’s hearts, minds, and souls back to God and His life principles,” wrote Barna.

The full section of the surgeon general’s report reads:

Membership in organizations that have been important pillars of community connection have declined significantly in this time. Take faith organizations, for example. Research produced by Gallup, Pew Research Center, and the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey demonstrates that since the 1970s, religious preference, affiliation, and participation among U.S. adults have declined. In 2020, only 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque. This is down from 70% in 1999 and represents a dip below 50% for the first time in the history of the survey question. Religious or faith-based groups can be a source for regular social contact, serve as a community of support, provide meaning and purpose, create a sense of belonging around shared values and beliefs, and are associated with reduced risk-taking behaviors. As a consequence of this decline in participation, individuals’ health may be undermined in different ways.”

This article originally appeared at The Washington Stand and has been reprinted with permission. 

Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.

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13 Responses

  1. Odd that the Biden administration gets something right. And possibly since its as much as was felt could be said in report, I’ll go a step further.

    Without God, you will feel lonely. You will not have His love for others, or His forgiveness and long-suffering for when they do not love back. And you will not have that relationship with Jesus Christ who is always with you.

    In other words, it really is a lost world full of evil. Getting beyond the purely social aspect, it can lead to the right questions. Including, how much can I as a Christian even get out of a full relationship with those who aren’t saved yet and do not have God’s love, but completely different values. Something about people are basically good – and therefore don’t need saving by Jesus Christ as being completely false, and a corollary, what fellowship has darkness with light or genuine Christians really are special and your brothers and sisters.

  2. “While the Left pursues the Great Reset…”?????

    I literally have no idea what this phrase means and there is no context given.

  3. Unfortunately, Barna seems to miss how political potshots make it very difficult for many to re-engage with conservative, evangelical churches.

    1. Ha! We as believers have known these conclusions all along. We have great and precious promises of healing for the body and of renewing for the mind. We really have the best of both worlds.

    2. No need to reengage with conservative evangelical churches. There are MUCH better versions of Church that actually look and act like Jesus out there- just takes some looking.

  4. A pack and a half of cigarettes is not 15 cigarettes, Ben. It is 30 cigarettes. ????‍♂️????‍♂️????‍♂️

  5. There seems to be an underlying theme in the story that connections are advantageous and isolation is not. Given my own experience, I can verify that. I can also verify that the connections I have had in Christian fellowships can also be arrayed on a spectrum running from very helpful to distinctly unhelpful. I can also verify that the root cause for unhelpful outcomes rested at times with me and at times with so called “keepers of the flame” (usually self appointed) that one can encounter in some fellowships. The problem discussed is real, but the resolution to it is more complex than going to church or any other single aspect of one’s life.

  6. In my own life, I have found churches to be unsafe so many times, and loneliness exists in attending church services. I have found much more healthy relationships in recovery meetings, meeting recovering addicts, and joining in-person social groups that have left controlling religion. Too much abuse and trauma found in churches goes unreported for years and decades, and I would not suggest organized religion as a healthy means to improving mental health and loneliness.

  7. I read a ton of comments on various forums and websites, and cannot tell you the number of people who have admitted to abandoning churches based on how the leadership listened to the ruling authorities and shut down due to the scamdemic.

    The Surgeon General is an obvious hypocrite in that he didn’t make a peep about lock down policies when they all knew it was part of a larger agenda to crash businesses and inter-personal relationships. Fear. Fear. Fear. FOIA’d emails prove this.

    I’d also wager he doesn’t have a signed and notarized oath of office like Biden and the rest of his cabinet members. Attorney Todd Calender brought this to light several weeks ago.

  8. I’m not buying into the Barna perspective on the undeniable negative effects of isolation and loneliness.
    Causation of isolation and loneliness involves way more factors than decline of Church attendance. Remedies for loneliness and isolation go far beyond religious adherence and Church attendance. Rather, so adhering and attending, is only one instance of the infinitely wider genre of social connecting and interacting.
    Talking, sharing experience and impulse and testimony, is in my experience crucial. We often say that we are what we eat. We are also what we speak; what we share as we speak. I have seen older isolated individuals lose crucial agency, as their opportunities for speaking become reduced.
    For many people, participation in sport is crucial, doing sport and watching sport. In the UK we have an entity called “Men In Sheds”, where (mainly older) men and women come together to make things and meet and talk. Encouraging men to talk together, often about “mental health”, has become a massive cultural thing in the UK.
    For many people, internet enabled social media, has become a powerful prophylactic against loneliness and isolation.
    For others its politics or dancing or village-hall stuff. There are just so many others ways of connecting with others. Maybe use public transport rather than a private vehicle. Volunteer, Go walking. Whatever.

  9. Covid scam? Really? Almost 7,000,000 deaths worldwide. Nicknamed the Boomer Remover.

    We can disagree on the precautions taken. For example, my library was closed for something like eighteen months, but I could spend all day at Wally World.

    My wife and I eventually got Covid. It wasn’t pleasant, but we survived.

    Scam?

    1. John, people are at different places in life regarding waking up to the systems of fraud that have been alive in the US for centuries, but this duplicitous fraud has grown into an absolute monster, and has invaded and taken root in every industry and profession – from food/electronics/fuel/electricity production, medical, law/legal, religious, education, political, sports, etc.. You name it and it’s saturated with it.

      One of the big problems is that the evangelical church has contributed to the fraud – oftentimes indirectly by not recognizing it, and directly by following and encouraging government mandates. Sadly, the church is not having conversations about how people who truly love Jesus should be dealing with it.

      So far too many Christian’s have been content sticking their heads in the sand when (or if) they see it because they lack courage to blow the whistle (don’t want to be the ‘salt of the earth’), and/or they are more in love with their paycheck than they are honesty and the truth…living the ‘American Dream’ asleep (thanks George Carlin).

      Once you developed eyes to see the systems of fraud – you cannot unsee it, and most if the times it’s a lonely road to travel, which is why many prefer ignorance, but the consequences are far too often devastating. Remember, perception is not always reality.

      Ask God to give you wisdom to research and see it, turn off the TV and radio, and seek out lesser known sources of information/perspective. Truth throughout the history of the Bible remained with a remnant of outcasts.

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