Could church participation improve children's grades in school? Recent studies suggest it might play a part.
Glenn Elder, Jr., of the University of North Carolina and Mark Regnerus of Calvin College have shown that in low-income areas, attending church strengthens educational progress.
Christianity Today reports the findings of this and several other studies associating positive outcomes with church involvement. The Regnerus and Elder study, commissioned by the Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society (CRRUCS), analyzed data from nearly 10,000 students.
Social involvement in church seems to matter more than specific beliefs in influencing academic improvement among low-income kids. Elder feels that shared values among church members and commitment to seeing children succeed helps kids build character. Regnerus notes that regular church attendance requires discipline, just as academic excellence does.
Others laud mentors in the faith community who encourage dedication and instill confidence. Church youth groups can teach leadership as students assume responsibility. Kids speak in meetings, help resolve conflicts and assist younger kids with homework. Such involvement can enhance self-assurance and develop useful life skills.
According to the CRRUCS, over 600 studies demonstrate positive connection between religion and physical, mental or social wellness. CRRUCS director Byron Johnson believes that "Religion is one of the best predictors of avoiding crime and delinquency."
I've seen firsthand how involvement in a faith community can correlate with university students' positive employment ratings. In the mid-1970s, I directed a summer project in South Carolina that brought Christian college students to a beach resort. The students worked in restaurants, grocery stores and construction sites by day. Their off hours included fun, studying and community outreach.
For the most part, employers loved the students because -- though not flawless -- they were dedicated, honest, cheerful, faithful workers. Merchants were eager to hire project students in successive summers. That project still exists and others across the nation have seen similar results.
Of course, correlation does not equal causation. Does spiritual involvement improve grades (or decrease delinquency or enhance job performance)? Or do dedicated students simply gravitate to faith-based groups? And is it the faith that makes the difference, or is it the social group support and mentoring?
Causation can be difficult to demonstrate absolutely in these matters. But in a world desperately in need of solid character and hope for youth, possible links between church involvement and positive outcomes are worth considering. One could do worse.
A first century biblical writer admonished, "Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage each other." Valuable ingredients for social and personal well being?
Valuable in many ways, say some. University of Pennsylvania researcher Ram Cnaan studied the contribution to the city of Philadelphia of urban churches and valued it at over a quarter of a million dollars annually in volunteer hours, goods and services.
Churches, of course, aren't perfect. "If you find a perfect church, don't join it," one speaker advised. "You'll spoil it." But church involvement with solid, responsible leadership can be an option worth considering for our kids.
Rusty Wright is an author and university lecturer with Probe.org who has spoken on six continents. "Real Answers™" furnished courtesy of The Amy Foundation Internet Syndicate. To contact the author or The Amy Foundation, write or E-mail to: P. O. Box 16091, Lansing, MI 48901-6091;