Sunday Software


~The life benefits of regular church attendance~
Gleanings from real research
by Neil MacQueen



Some links below may not work. Go to the new version!


The life benefits of regular church attendance

Gleanings from real research by Neil MacQueen

What if I told you there was a well-researched and statistically proven program that on average can:

    • increase the average life expectancy of your children by 8 years
    • significantly reduce your child's use and risk from Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs
    • dramatically lower their risk of suicide
    • help them rebound from depression 70% faster
    • dramatically reduce their risk for committing a crime
    • improve their attitude at school and increase their school participation
    • reduce their risk for rebelliousness
    • reduce the likelihood that they would binge drink in college
    • improve their odds for a "very happy" life
    • provide them with a life-long moral compass
    • provide children with a caring extended family
    • get them to wear their seatbelts more often
    • and will also statistically improve the odds that they will lead an active church life in their adults years

Is there such a program?

YES, there is.

...And it is supported by research from Duke University, Indiana University, The University of Michigan, The Center for Disease Control, Barna Research Group, Gallup, Pew, and the National Institute for Healthcare Research, and several national surveys. (see the footnotes below).

How much would a program like this be worth to you?

What if I told you it was free, and only took about 2 hours a week?
Would you be interested?

Take a look at the above list again.

It's not a dream.

The program is called "active church participation."

In study, after study, after study, children who actively engage in a faith community on a regular basis are rewarded with SIGNIFICANTLY reduced likelihood of life problems and risky behaviors, and stand to significantly improved their odds of a happier, healthier, and longer life. These studies show the same results for adults as well.

In addition, numerous surveys, including the latest 2009 Survey by the Barna Research Group, continue to show a strong statistical connection between being active in the church as a child and staying active as an adult. Furthermore, Barna's recent research indicates that even "being involved at least a few times a month is correlated with nearly the same sticking power as weekly involvement especially among teenagers."  (Read Barna's 2009 survey on the long term effects of active participation).

But here's the thing... To increase the odds of your children receiving these results, you can't wait. According to a Barna Research Group study, if a child is not regularly active by the age of 12, the odds of them getting active DROPS DRAMATICALLY in their teen years and beyond. Indeed, Barna's research indicates that adults who attended church regularly as children -are nearly three times as likely to be attending a church today as their peers who avoided church during childhood (61% to 22%, respectively). In other words, parents who truly want the best for their children should get their children involved at church now and regularly. The old proverb was right on: "Raise up a child in the way they should go," and the odds are they won't depart from it.

But it's not just about supervision and keeping kids busy. Our culture has been preaching "parents (as) the anti-drug," promoting D.A.R.E. programs, school uniforms, afterschool programs, and athletics as solutions to our various ills. And arguably, many parents are MORE in touch with their children today, -than were parents of previous generations.

And yet, a whole host of problems plaguing young people have only gotten worse over the last 30 years. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Sunday School and church attendance has fallen over this same period. What we've learned is that many supervised activities, such as baseball teams and dance classes, while helpful, are also poor substitutes for parents and family and the development of the spiritual self.  Though their influence is important, teams, clubs, teachers and coaches often lack many of the long-term nurturing qualities that families provide to children, and they often reflect secular values, rather than the faith values which lead to spiritual development and church participation.

Active parenting is vitally important, but it also takes a caring village to raise a child. Extended families stimulate the intellectual, social and spiritual development of children through long-term caring relationships and the teaching of self-less values at the core of faith.

  • Extended faith families teach children and youth how to develop their internal life, which is a proven stress-reliever and problem solving skill.
  • The Extended faith family offers supervised egalitarian peer groups, and interaction with positive role models (who aren't yelling at them to kick the ball, or benching them for not being good enough).
  • The church offers a family atmosphere to children from broken homes or who's relatives are far-flung or distant.
  • Church life allows children to see their parents demonstrating their values and engaging the world outside of the home.
  • Church life challenges children and youth to manage their priorities and challenges them to lead less self-centered lives.
  • The Extended faith family offers peer support and guidance to parents.
  • Lessons, sermons, Bible passages and programs such as Confirmation -open up young people to a world of ideas and history.
  • The practicing of traditions and rituals helps develop a sense of one's place in "the story." 

All of these things (and more we could mention) highlight the impact of the "village" in raising a child, ...not to mention the life benefits from knowing a forgiving and loving God!

[Aside: The author of this article was a sports coach for many years, as well as, a youth minister and father of three children. A healthy athletic life is important to the overall development of a child. This includes learning "teamwork" and how to be coached. But the values of many teams and coaches are more about competition and winning than inner development.  They may prepare you to be a good citizen or employee, but team sports, while commendable experiences, do not emphasize self-development in the way that other outdoor activities and biblical teachings do. And unfortunately, many of the coaches and athletes that I've come in contact with over the years were not role models I would have otherwise wanted my children to be around. Compare the average coach to the average youth group leader and the kind of activities and values they will surround your child with. Makes you wonder why some parents choose sports over church! Aside Over!]

Most parents want what's best for their kids. They just don't always know what that is.  If we provide them with the evidence, and a quality experience for their children, most will respond just as Jesus predicted they would when he said,

"What parent, knowing their children need bread, would give them a stone?"

What is also true is that we need to teach parents the difference between bread and stones.

Simply put, in the search for "what works," researchers keep turning up "active participation" in a "faith community" as the one consistent potent factor in raising up children to be successful, happy, healthy and engaged adults both in the church and in the world. It's time for the Christian Church to once again speak loudly about this, especially to the parents. Karate classes, travel soccer and getting good grades, while wonderful in their own right, are poor substitutes for their children's need for extended family and a healthy inner life (which may even tap them into the power of the living Christ).

That said.... the church has often given STONES to parents and children: boring groups, poor leadership, poorly supported efforts, and a monolithic one-size-fits -all approach to ministering to children.  For more about bread and stones (what works and what doesn't) see my article about a "New Vision" for children's ministry located at

What will parents and churches do now that the benefits are obvious? In PART II of this series at, we'll look at the "excuses" both often use to explain why raising kids in the church isn't as important or as possible as it once was. Part II -- Are Our Kids Too Busy on Sunday Morning? What the actual research says about where our kids are spending their time.


Who is Neil MacQueen
I'm a parent, Presbyterian minister, Christian education consultant, and Christian software designer. I've been teaching in Sunday School, Confirmation classes, and leading youth groups for over 25 years. I helped create a new model for Sunday School called the Workshop Rotation Model (, have authored numerous articles for Christian publications. I write and distribute interactive Bible software for children and youth in an attempt to attract, engage and teach them God's Word. (

Over the years I've heard all the excuses about "why kids and parents these days don't...." --and made a few excuses myself. That prompted me to explore if there was any research that could help churches do a better job at reaching this generation, and help parents understand the importance of raising their kids in the church.  Frankly, I was surprised with what I found.  I hope you are too, and that it promotes healthy discussion.

This article may be reprinted provided that the author and website source ( are included with the article.

See below for the sources of the statistics mentioned in this article (

Continue Reading This Series:

Part II -- Are Our Kids Too Busy on Sunday Morning?
What the actual research says about where our kids are spending their time

Part III -- Characteristics of a New Ministry to Children
A Prescription for improving our ministry to children based on research and experience.

You may also be interested in these related articles:
"Priming" ...the brain science behind Sunday School
The problem with Teenage Sunday School classes,  Confessions of an Old Youth Minister,
 The Tribe13 Experiment, a different kind of youth group
and my ideas on Promoting Sunday School and Recruiting Teachers

Sources and Additional Research for this article
(and some of it quite amazing)

Note: I haven't checked these links in a while, so some may not work.

There is a surprising amount of research out there from a wide variety of sources that has collected data and analyzed it on the subject of religion and youth. Many of the studies have been funded by the National Institute of Health, and several prestigious universities. I've excerpted and linked a few of them below. If the link is dead, the data may have been moved at the site or may be at a new website. Google it.

Information gleaned from the Barna Research Group,

Of those who said they led an active faith life, 83 percent said their faith is growing deeper, as opposed to 38% who defined their faith life as less active. 73% of "active faith lives" said they were "very happy" with their lives. Only 57% of agnostics and atheists said they were "very happy."


" Two out of three (67%) unchurched adults call themselves Christian. (2000)
" One-third (35%) claim they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today. (2000)
" About 4 out of 10 unchurched assert that their religious faith is very important in their life. (2000)

Taking Children to Church (2001)
" Adults who attended church regularly as a child are nearly three times as likely to be attending a church today as are their peers who avoided the church during childhood (61% to 22%, respectively).
" Roughly seven out of ten Americans adults (71%) had a period of time during their childhood when they regularly attended a Christian church.
" Just less than two out of three adults (63%) who were churched as children take their own children to a church, which is double the proportion among adults who were not churched and who now take their kids to church (33%).
" Adults who attended church as a child are twice as likely as others to read the Bible during a typical week; twice as likely to attend a church worship service in a typical week; and nearly 50% more likely to pray to God during a typical week.

Probability of accepting Christ, segmented by age
" Children between the ages of 5 and 13 have a 32% probability of accepting Jesus Christ as their savior.
" The probability of accepting Christ drops to 4% for those who are between the ages of 14 and 18.
" Those older than 18 have a 6% probability of accepting Jesus Christ as their savior.

Young people who said that religion is important and who worshiped regularly had a significantly lower rate of cohabitation when compared to peers who did not consider religion important and attended services seldom or never. The cohabitation rate of those who never attended services was about seven times higher than those who attended several times a week. Young people who were more religious had higher rates of marriage than their less religious peers who often substitued cohabitation for marriage.

Sample or Data Description: Families in the Detroit area

Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, and Daniel H. Hill, "Reciprocal Effects of Religiosity, Cohabitation, and Marriage," American Journal of Sociology. Vol. 98, Number 3. , 1992. Page(s) 628-651.

Regular church attendance during adolescence frequently predicts a less promiscuous adult life. "Never married women who did not attend religious services as adolescents are more than twice as likely to report having two or more recent sex partners compared to those who did attend services regularly."

Sample or Data Description: 3,378 single women

Source: Stuart N. Seidman, William D. Mosher, and Sevgi O. Aral, "Predictors of High-Risk Behavior in Unmarried American Women: Adolescent Environment as Risk Factor." Journal of Adolescent Health.Vol. 15, Number . , 1994. Page(s) 126-132.

Religious Teens Have More Positive Outlook
Study Finds Link Between Church Attendance, Happiness....Enjoyment --

High school seniors who consider themselves religious have significantly higher self-esteem and hold more positive attitudes about life than do their less religious peers, according to a new study.

The research, part of the University of North Carolina-based National Study of Youth and Religion, revealed a statistical association between religion and higher self-esteem among 12th-graders who went to religious services at least once a week or who professed deeply held spiritual views, said study director Christian Smith.

"We found that of the 13 variables we examined about attitudes, only one was not significantly related to some dimension of religion in a positive way," said Smith, a professor of sociology. "This was contrary to the belief held by some people that religion is associated with psychological neurosis or dysfunction. These findings seem to suggest the opposite -- that religion is associated with a constructive outlook."

Researchers found that the 31 percent of all 12th-graders who attended services weekly and the additional 30 percent who said religion was very important to them were significantly more likely than nonreligious students to enjoy life, think their lives were useful, feel hopeful about their futures, be satisfied with their lives and enjoy being in school.

The book Soul Searching summarizes the National Study on Youth and Religion. It reports the findings of The National Study of Youth and Religion, the largest and most detailed such study ever undertaken. Based on a nationwide telephone survey of teens and their parents, as well as in-depth face-to-face interviews with more than 250 of the survey respondents, Soul Searching shows that religion is indeed a significant factor in the lives of many American teenagers. Chock full of carefully interpreted interview data and solid survey statistics, Soul Searching reveals many surprising findings. For example, the authors find that teenagers are far more influenced by the religious beliefs and practices of their parents and other adults than is commonly thought. They challenge the conventional wisdom that many teens today are "spiritual seekers." And they show that greater teenage religious involvement is significantly associated with more positive adolescent life outcomes

The study showed that religious youth were less likely to smoke, drink and use drugs and more likely to start later and use less if they started at all, he said. They went to bars less often, received fewer traffic tickets, wore seat belts more, took fewer risks and fought less frequently. Shoplifting, other thefts, trespassing and arson also were more rare.

"Religious 12th-graders argued with parents less, skipped school less, exercised more, participated more in student government and faced fewer detentions, suspensions and expulsions," Smith said.

The National Study of Youth and Religion, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., is under the direction of Dr. Christian Smith, Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, and Dr. Lisa Pearce, Assistant Professor of Sociology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Benefits of Church Attendance in Poor Communities

Students from poor neighborhoods who attend church are also less likely to engage in violent behavior, says Byron Johnson, director of the Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, which sponsored the Regnerus/Elder study.

In a recent study, researchers Mark Regnerus and Glen Elder Jr. demonstrate that when youth from low-income neighborhoods attend church, their academic performance improves.

The study, commissioned by the Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, relied on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to examine the relationship between religion and academics in nearly 10,000 students. Regnerus and Elder found that the poorer the neighborhood, the more church attendance helped kids to improve academically. The findings held true even after controlling for obvious influences like a student's relationship with parents.

Also from Barna Research, "Basic Understanding of Evangelism" Study (1994)
" 9 out of 10 American adults (86%) cannot accurately define the meaning of the "Great Commission."
" 7 out of 10 adults have no clue what "John 3:16" means.
" Barely one third of all adults (31%) know the meaning of the expression "the gospel."
" Only 4% of adults could define the "Great Commission," quote John 3:16, and define "the gospel."

Top Ten Reasons to Attend a Church Service
" #1 the theological beliefs and doctrine of the church
" #2 how much the people seem to care about each other
" #3 the quality of the sermons that are preached
" #4 how friendly the people in the church are to visitors
" #5 how involved the church is in helping poor and disadvantaged people
" #6 the quality of the programs and classes for children
" #7 how much you like the pastor
" #8 the denomination the church is affiliated with
" #9 the quality of the adult Sunday school classes
" #10 the convenience of the times of their weekend services
" At least half of the unchurched audience found each of the following to be compelling reasons to return to church: learning more about God, getting religious training for their children, improving their personal understanding of the contents of the bible, meeting other people, and discovering ways of handling daily challenges more appropriately or effectively. (1995)

Experiencing God
" Enjoying or appreciating worship is not synonymous with experiencing the presence of God. Nearly two-thirds of regular attenders say they have never experienced God's presence at a church service. (1997)
" 48% of regular church attenders have not experienced God's presence in the past year. (1997)

EXCERPTS from a 2001-2003 Barna Research Study
on Children's Ministry, Churches and Faith Formation

Read the full report and/or order the Barna Reasearch book at

Research Shows That Spiritual Maturity Process Should Start at a Young Age

November 17, 2003
(Ventura, CA)- Three years of research regarding ministry to children has revealed many surprising outcomes, according to a new book by researcher George Barna. In discussing that volume, entitled Transforming Your Children Into Spiritual Champions, Barna indicated that the wealth of research not only changed his personal perspective on the importance of ministering to young children, but also clarified why churches struggle to have significance in our culture.

“Adults essentially carry out the beliefs they embraced when they were young,” he explained.

Reaching People When They’re Young

Barna’s research discovered that a person’s lifelong behaviors and views are generally developed when they are young – particularly before they reach the teenage years.

First, a person’s moral foundations are generally in place by the time they reach age nine. ... fundamental perspectives on truth, integrity, meaning, justice, morality, and ethics are formed quite early in life. After their first decade, most people simply refine their views as they age without a wholesale change in those leanings.

Second, a person’s response to the meaning and personal value of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection is usually determined before a person reaches eighteen. In fact, a majority of Americans make a lasting determination about the personal significance of Christ’s death and resurrection by age 12.

Third, Barna showed data indicating that in most cases people’s spiritual beliefs are irrevocably formed when they are pre-teens.

“In essence,” the researcher noted, “what you believe by the time you are 13 is what you will die believing.

.....research revealed that adult church leaders usually have serious involvement in church life and training when they are young. ......One implication is that the individuals who will become the church’s leaders two decades from now are probably active in church programs today.

Families and Churches Working Together

...Barna stated that the research underscored the importance of families, not churches, taking the lead in the spiritual development of children. “In situations where children became mature Christians we usually found a symbiotic partnership between their parents and their church,”

...Barna’s firm concluded that churches experiencing great influence in children’s lives were motivated by the realization that children are of special significance to God. Consequently, those churches employed a long-term, multi-pronged strategy that they tirelessly executed to facilitate the spiritual growth of children. a typical Protestant church, more than four out of every ten people ministered to during the week are children, yet seven out of every eight ministry dollars are spent on adults.

.....but the more important resource is the commitment of adults to the spiritual wholeness of the children – which means sacrificing some of the emphasis upon the ministry to adults.”

Book Challenges Prevailing Notions

The researcher admitted that the outcome of his studies produced a significant turnabout in his own views about ministry. “Since I became a Christian two decades ago, I have always accepted the dominant notion: the most important ministry is that conducted among adults. But the overwhelming evidence we have seen of the huge impact in the lives of kids and the relatively limited changes in the lives of adults has completely revolutionized my view of ministry. I have concluded that children are the single most important population group for the Church to focus upon.

Read the full report and/or order the Barna Reasearch book at

D.A.R.E. Doesn't Work

Published: Tuesday, February 16, 1999
Author: Kendra E. Wright
Source: San Francisco Examiner

DRUG CZAR Barry McCaffrey announced last week a plan to cut drug use in half by 2007. His goal - getting mentors and role models more active in the lives of kids - is laudable. But drug education and prevention will never succeed as long as D.A.R.E. - the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program - is ensconced in 70 percent of our children's schools. Over the last five years, studies have been conducted for the federal General Accounting Office and Justice Department and for the California Department of Education. They describe how D.A.R.E. and other anti-drug programs fail to reach the teenagers most at risk of drug abuse. Joel Brown of Berkeley-based Educational Research Consultants was hired by the state Department of Education to conduct one of the most extensive qualitative studies of drug education programs to date. He found that D.A.R.E. and other programs may actually be hurting our kids. Brown's conclusions - eloquently articulated for him by the teens he interviewed - were so disturbing that in 1995 the state education agency buried the report. (The findings became public in 1997 when published in the prestigious Education Evaluation and Policy Review Journal.)

Update: Some D.A.R.E. programs have been dropped by local communities. Others have been revamped. The jury is still out.

Invited article for the Reformed Review, 2000, 53 (2), 119-126.

David G. Myers

Several new studies find the religiosity-longevity correlation among men alone, and even more strongly among women.8 One study that followed 5,286 Californians over twenty-eight years found frequent religious attendees 36 percent less likely to have died in any year after controlling for age, gender, ethnicity, and education. Another followed 3,968 elderly North Carolinians for six years. It found that 23 percent of those attending religious services at least weekly had died, as had 37 percent of infrequent attendees.9 A "National Health Interview Survey" followed 21, 204 people over eight years. After controlling for age, sex, race, and region, nonattenders were 1.87 times more likely to have died than were those attending more than weekly.10 This translated into a life expectancy at age twenty of eighty-three years for frequent attenders and seventy-five years for infrequent attenders.

Indiana Univ funded study of youth

Showed that non-religious students were twice as likely to use drugs, alcohol and engage in binge drinking.

Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences on a study conducted in N. Carolina by Duke.

Findings: Depressed patients with higher intrinsic religiosity scores had 70% more rapid remissions than patients with lower scores. In this study, greater intrinsic religiosity independently predicted shorter time to remission. To the authors' knowledge, this is the first report in which religiosity has been examined as a predictor of outcome of depressive disorder.

Findings: Persons who "prayed or studied the Bible at least several times/week" were 58% less likely than others to have alcoholism in past 6 months (OR 0.42, 95% CI 0.22-0.78, p<.01 after controlling for age, sex, race, SES, and health status); no difference was found for life-time rates. Those who "attended religious services weekly or more" were 71% less likely to have alcoholism in past 6 months

From The Psychiatric Times...

Dr. Larson, president of the National Institute for Healthcare Research and adjunct professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral science at Duke University Medical Center and Northwestern University Medical School.

National Institute for Healthcare Research (1999), surveyed almost 14,000 youths and found that the analysis of six measures of religious commitment and eight measures of substance abuse revealed religious commitment was linked with less drug abuse. The measure of "importance of religion" was the best predictor in indicating lack of substance abuse. The authors stated, "This implies that the controls operating here are deeply internalized values and norms rather than…fear…or peer pressure."

A study of the religious lives of alcoholics found that 89% of alcoholics had lost interest in religion during their teen-age years, whereas 48% among the community control group had increased interest in religion, and 32% had remained unchanged (Larson and Wilson, 1980). Alcoholics often report negative experiences with religion and hold concepts of God that are punitive, rather than loving and forgiving (Gorsuch, 1993).

Furthermore, a relationship between religious/spiritual commitment and the non-use or moderate use of alcohol has been documented. Amoateng and Bahr (1986) reported that, whether or not a religious tradition specifically proscribes alcohol use, those who are active in a religious group consumed substantially less alcohol than those who are not active.

How significantly might religious commitment prevent suicide? One early large-scale study found that people who did not attend church were four times more likely to kill themselves than were frequent church-goers (Comstock and Partridge, 1972). Stack (1983) found rates of church attendance predicted suicide rates more effectively than any other evaluated factor, including unemployment.

The researchers studied data gathered through Monitoring the Future, the University of North Carolina's four year nationally representative survey of high school seniors. Among specific findings were that especially religious youths were less likely to smoke, drink and use drugs and more likely to start later and use less if they started at all, he said. They went to bars less often, received fewer traffic tickets, wore seat belts more, took fewer risks and fought less frequently. Shoplifting, other thefts, trespassing and arson also were rarer.

"Religious 12th-graders argued with parents less, skipped school less, exercised more, participated more in student government and faced fewer detentions, suspensions and expulsions," Smith said.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is funding the four-year study, which began in 2001. Among the researchers' goals are to identify effective practices in the religious, moral and social formation in young people's lives and to foster informed national discussions about the influence of religion on adolescents.

View a listing of research results pertinent to our topic at

October 28, 2002

WASINGTON (RNS)--Teenagers who attend church, have strong religious beliefs and participate in church-sponsored youth activities are more likely than their less-religious peers to avoid risky behavior, according to a new study.
The report, released in late September by the National Study of Youth and Religion, studied U.S. 12th graders and found a strong correlation between religion and avoiding delinquent activity.
"The report demonstrates that religion among U.S. 12th graders is positively related to participation in constructive youth activities," said the study's principal investigator, Christian Smith. Smith, a professor and associate chair of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where the study was based, and his researchers examined data from Monitoring the Future, a national survey of U.S. high school students. Religious seniors, the study found, are less likely to "use, sell or be offered drugs." While 61.3 percent of non-churchgoing 12th graders reported using illegal drugs in the previous year, only 38.5 percent of those who attend church frequently said they had. Tobacco and alcohol use was lower among religious teens as well. Only 11.9 percent of frequent churchgoers said they used cigarettes, while almost three times as many of their non-churchgoing peers smoke regularly. Half of those who rated religion as "very important" had never been drunk, compared to 30.5 percent of those who said religion is not important to them.

In addition, the study reports, religious teens:
___Are safer behind the wheel.
___Are less attracted to danger and risky situations.
___Are less prone to violence and criminal behavior.
___Have less trouble in school and with their parents.
___Are more involved in sports, community activities and volunteer work.
___While the researchers said there is a strong link between religion and positive, healthy behavior in teens, it is difficult, they wrote, to "determine the direction of cause and effect between religion and risk behaviors and social activities."
___Possible factors in the link might be the influence of religion itself or that some families are predisposed to avoid risky behavior and engage in religious activities.

Church Attendance Improves Community Volunteerism among Young People

The relationship between religiosity and community engagement extends beyond voting to other aspects of civic activity, such as volunteering -- 73% of 18 to 24 year olds who attend religious services every week have volunteered with a community or religious organization in the past few years, compared to 40% of those who attend religious services less frequently.

Quoted from the National Assoc. of Secretaries of State, Voting Survey, Attitudes Among Youth.