The Few, the Faithful, and the Happy

New Study Shows the Emotional Health of the "Home-Worshiper"

A second wave of COVID-19 infections seems to be sweeping the nation, no doubt leaving many Christians worried that their local church doors may again soon be shut—or that church will have “gone virtual” yet again. Does worship at home cut it, many are wondering? Do home-based spiritual practices have merit?

The answer, according to a new study published by The Wheatley Institution, is a resounding yes. Much research on the subject of well-being and religiosity is decades old, and also focuses solely on regular service attendance as a proxy for overall religiosity. In this study, the authors seek to dig quite a bit deeper, discerning the relationship between what they call “home worship” and overall well-being. “Home worship” here encompasses five different behaviors: attendance at religious services, family prayer, individual prayer, the reading of religious texts, and the discussion of matters of faith within the family. Survey respondents from 11 different countries were then categorized into one of five groups based on how often they engaged in these behaviors: seculars, nominals (who don’t attend services regularly but participate in home worship at some level), attenders (who attend services weekly, and are more likely to engage in the other behaviors at home), and home-worshipers (the smallest group at 8%, who attend church weekly, pray daily as individuals and pray together as a family, read religious texts, and have religious conversations several times a week). The 11 countries studied were meant to encompass a wide range of religiosity as well, from the “secular” countries of Western Europe to the more religious countries of Latin America.

The authors of the paper found some pretty compelling evidence that the practice of faith in the home matters a great deal. Home worshipers report significantly higher levels of both individual well-being and overall life satisfaction. They are more likely to report feeling that their life has meaning and purpose, that they are happy, and that they feel God’s love in their lives. Home worshipers also report greater relationship quality. Those in “Shared Home Worshiper Couples” (wherein both partners engage in high levels of faith behaviors in the home) report the highest levels of relationship quality, emotional closeness, and even sexual satisfaction. Home worshiping couples also report feeling strained about finances less often.

Particularly interesting in these findings—and flying in the face of common wisdom regarding the supposedly patriarchal nature of religion—women in shared home worshiper couples reported the highest levels of emotional closeness to their partners, sexual satisfaction, and also shared decision-making, which the authors call “the probability of reporting that major household decisions are made together.” The authors remark on this seemingly confusing trend, commenting that “Scholars have typically used terms like egalitarian to imply that gender equality is more possible in relationships where men and women divide family tasks in ways that are not defined by traditional gender roles.” They suggest instead that perhaps “a shared vision of blending complementary and interdependent roles can contribute to high levels of relationship quality,” and emphasize the possibility of “equality of process.”

So, what are some key takeaways from this important study? First, faith matters—a lot—to ourselves and to our relationships. The media, celebrities, and even many so-called intellectuals like to pile on the “hypocrisy” of religion, presuming the religious to be the “deplorables” who still wave Trump flags and like to keep their womenfolk in the kitchen. But the religious themselves—and particularly religious women—actually seem to be much happier with themselves and their partners than do respondents from other categories. Faith, the authors suggest, connects people to a greater sense of belonging, both within the world but also with God. People of faith can bear crises and hardships better, because they believe in a bigger picture.

Second, if there were ever any doubt about this, what we do at home also matters a lot. Faith is more than a once-a-week service. And those who confine their faith to that service alone miss out on many of the benefits that true home worship brings. Activities like prayer, devotions, the reading of religious texts, and regularly keeping the Word on our lips help to support both our own well-being and that of our families.

So be encouraged, particularly in this bizarre time. We need to gather together as the Body of Christ, to be sure. We need the sacraments, the fellowship, the communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ. But our Lord knows we need these things, and He also knows the time we live in. He will feed us in the daily rituals of prayer and reading of His Word. He will guide our children’s hearts to Himself, even when they’re rolling around on the carpet instead of watching the Facebook live church service we’re trying so hard to get them to focus on.

Seek Him in your home, give the Gospel to your children, and take heart. It’s making a bigger difference that it may at times seem.

is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.

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