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A Link Between Church Attendance and Academic Achievement?

This post was written by Jonathan Abbamonte, a graduate of The Catholic University of America.

For many of us, going to church is a part of the Sunday routine. We hear a sermon, sing a few hymns, pray, and worship. We may reflect on a challenging message from the Gospels. Perhaps we satiate our longing for spirituality or just maybe we are wondering when the sermon will be over so we can catch the end of the football game. For some of us it is essential to who we are. For others, we go because our loved ones or friends go. Still others don’t really even know why we go—it’s just part of what we do.

Keeping a Sunday routine can be especially challenging during life’s transitions: starting a new job, moving to a new community, getting married. Perhaps no transition is more challenging for religious practice than adjusting to university life or living on your own. According to a study by Jennifer Keup and Ellen Bara Stolzenberg, 83 percent of college freshman report attending church frequently at the beginning of the year but only 57 percent continued to do so by the end of their freshman year. Responsibilities and demands become much greater as time goes on, and finding the time to get everything done, while balancing other priorities, becomes a challenge. We often find ourselves choosing between homework and friends, extracurricular activities and family, church and work. Many times we give church the short end of the stick as other pressing needs demand our attention. There are many reasons, however, why this may not be in our best interest.

From a faith perspective, God holds the place of primacy in our lives. We should not place other gods before Him—not money or grades, friends or prestige. But faith aside, weekly church attendance has many practical benefits. Just take educational attainment as an example.

A study by Linda Loury found that weekly church attendance has a stronger effect on the educational attainment of students than three years worth of schooling from the student’s mother and four years worth of schooling from the father. Additionally, church attendance was found to be more important for educational attainment than having a parent who is (or was) a white collar worker. In fact, students who attend church weekly on average have a half-year more education than those who never attend.

“Students who attend church weekly are also significantly more likely to receive a high school diploma.”

Weekly church attendance also affects academic performance. High school students who attend weekly have on average a 2.9 GPA for combined scores for math and English courses. Those who never attend have a significantly lower GPA of 2.6 on average. Weekly attendees are also more likely to have received mostly A’s in school. In another study, students who attended “once a week or more” had GPAs 14.4 percent higher than those who never attended. William Jeynes in “The Effects of Religious Commitment on the Academic Achievement of Urban and Other Children” found that students who self-identify as religious, are involved in church youth groups, and attend church services weekly, score higher on standardized tests gauging performance in math, reading, social studies, and science—and are less likely to be held back a grade.

Students who attend church weekly are also significantly more likely to graduate and receive a high school diploma. James Coleman in his widely cited piece “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital” found that the high school drop-out rate for weekly attendees was about half of what it was for those who never attended.

The effects extend into college as well. Those who attend religious services weekly or more than monthly are 13 percent more likely to have completed at least some college coursework than those who never attend. Furthermore, weekly observers are 18 percent more likely to obtain a Bachelor’s degree than those who never attend religious services.

There are, of course, more general benefits to regular church attendance as well. Take anxiety: People who attend church frequently are significantly less likely to worry about how life is going, feel discouraged, or feel as if life is not fair. It turns out that church attendance is a more powerful predictor of lower anxiety than the level of one’s education or one’s marital status.

Likewise, students who attend church weekly are more likely to have higher aspirations for educational attainment. A student’s self-assessment of the highest degree that he or she will earn correlates with the frequency of church attendance. Frequent worshipers are also more likely to have positive perceptions of future life and career goals, and place more emphasis on future educational attainment.

Not everyone who observes weekly attendance of religious services will see higher grades, greater educational attainment, and less anxiety than their non-practicing peers. Many other factors come into play as well. Nonetheless, the research demonstrates that weekly church attendance is one of the strongest predictors of academic—and life—success. So keep it a part of your Sunday routine. In the long-run you will be glad you did.

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