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The Church is Essential


Last updated 6/17/2020 at 12:51pm

On Sunday, March 15, most churches throughout Colorado Springs and the Fountain Valley held their last in-person gathering. Since then, a series of drive-in services and online worship have attempted to fill the void of providing ongoing teaching and connectivity. Yet, despite these efforts, the psychological needs, including the cognitive, relational and emotional aspects of individuals within the congregations across this country, have not been fully met.

According to Louise Hawkley, Ph.D., in an article by the American Psychological Association, loneliness can wreak havoc on an individual's physical, mental and cognitive health. Dr. Hawkley points to evidence linking perceived social isolation with adverse health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life.

In addition, a 2019 study led by Kassandra Alcaraz, Ph.D., MPH, a public health researcher with the American Cancer Society, analyzed data from more than 580,000 adults and found that social isolation increases the risk of premature death from every cause for every race. "Our research really shows that the magnitude of risk presented by social isolation is very similar in magnitude to that of obesity, smoking, lack of access to care and physical inactivity," she says.

Last year, researchers at the Florida State University College of Medicine also found that loneliness is associated with a 40 percent increase in a person's risk of dementia.

Loneliness, it seems, can lead to long-term "fight-or-flight" stress signaling, which negatively affects immune system functioning. Simply put, people who feel lonely have less immunity and more inflammation than people who don't.

Pastors across the country have tried to meet the many needs of each and every person within their church families using online tools including Zoom, Livestream, Facebook live and YouTube (just to name a few). However, according to the Barna Research Group, nearly half of churched adults have not streamed a church service in the past four weeks.

The majority of pastors (96 percent) report their churches have been streaming their worship services online during the pandemic. But that may not matter for nearly half of churched adults-that is, those who say they have attended church in the past six months; 48 percent of this group report they have not streamed an online service in the last month. Even looking at a more consistent segment-practicing Christians, who are typically characterized by at least monthly attendance-one in three (32 percent) admit they have not streamed an online service during this time.

Researchers were surprised to see this seeming dip among regular attenders, particularly considering that a plurality of Protestant pastors (40 percent) has reported an increase in virtual attendance since the pandemic pushed services online. Additionally, weekend schedules during the crisis have likely looked more open, and many churches now offer on-demand streaming after an initial service or upload; 29 percent of practicing Christians and 20 percent of non-practicing Christians say they take advantage of this option on a day other than Sunday. These are all reasons virtual attendance could have been boosted, but it's possible that enthusiasm for only online service options has dwindled as the weeks have passed."

This alarming data has impassioned pastors and church leaders to implore governing officials to open the church doors with reasonable parameters to ensure the health and wellness of all who are present. No longer can churches depend on technology to meet the spiritual, psychological and social needs of the whole person. Rather, there must be a concerted effort by our communities to re-engage and re-connect in group worship. Our nation depends on it!

William Federer, an American historian, recently shared his perspectives on the unrest across these United States. We can learn a lot from history. It seems there is nothing new under the sun. According to Federer, Harvard Professor Clay Christensen stated without hesitation, "I had no idea how critical religion is to the functioning of democracy." Christensen continued, "the reason why democracy works is not because the government was designed to oversee what everybody does. But, rather, democracy works because most people, most of the time, voluntarily choose to obey the law." What was the source of this moral code of conduct? Christensen states, "Most Americans attended a church or synagogue every week. And they were taught there by people who they respected and believe they weren't just accountable to society, they were accountable to God." He went on to share, "as religion loses its influence over the lives of Americans, what will happen to our democracy?"

Humanity is not born inherently good. There are few institutions, outside of the church and family, that can instill a moral code of conduct within individuals to willingly choose to obey the laws simply because it is the right thing to do. If we take away the church and its influence in society, you cannot hire enough police or health professionals to deal with the consequences. The church is essential!

John Bornschein, Th.D., is Senior Pastor, Calvary Fellowship Fountain Valley


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