The Church's Unique Impact on Community Cohesion
By Ryan Everson
Acceptance, belonging, and community are fundamental to human happiness. The bonds we build with others through interests such as sports, culture, and hobbies are beneficial in building relationships with those around us.
In the American context, the Church has been one of the largest hubs of social cohesion. While there is a plethora of other social institutions such as clubs, associations, and organizations that thrive in the American system, none have been as historically powerful at linking individuals together as the Church.
The church is special among these institutions because it is a place where people from all backgrounds, ages, and classes are welcome. Churches bring the rich and the poor together. They bring the elderly and the young together. Churches also bring conservatives and liberals together. And churches do not bring these people together to merely tolerate each other – they bring people together to love each other in pursuit of a common purpose and love for God.
Tim Carney, the commentary editor of Washington Examiner, explores this concept in his book, “Alienated America.” Throughout the book, Carney explores how churches have a positive impact not only on society, and how a lack of religious institutions can cause great harm to a neighborhood. One example Carney provides is from the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, where Catholic school attendance has dropped from 300,000 students in 1965 to just 87,000 in 2013.
“Researchers Margaret Brinig and Nicole Stelle Garnett studied the effect,” Carney said. “The researchers found a very pronounced negative effect. In neighborhoods where Catholic schools unexpectedly shut down, residents reported more public drinking, drug dealing, and drug use, and more teenagers causing disturbances. Graffiti, litter, and abandoned buildings become more prevalent.”
In addition to these findings, social science studies indicate that going to church helps at the individual level. A Pew Research study across 26 countries found that people who consistently engage in a religious community are happier than those who do not. 36% percent of actively churchgoing Americans described themselves as “very happy,” but only 25% of non-church-going Americans did the same. This is in part because the religious communities help provide people from all walks of life with a sense of purpose and belonging.
Additionally, even the Pew was agnostic on what this finding implies for our increasingly secularized society. “This may suggest that societies with declining levels of religious engagement, like the U.S., could be at risk for declines in personal and societal well-being,” Pew said.
As both religious writers and non-religious scientists have observed, the secularization of America has resulted in a decaying of the social fabric, increased depression, and many other ills. We should cherish our religious communities, be as active in them as we can, and we must encourage our friends and family to do the same. Religious devotion is much more than just a private affair. We should view it not just as a personal obligation, but a communal one, and a necessary part of making the world around us a better place.
We may not be able to take credit for how this religious activity affects our community, or know exactly what kind of a difference it is making. But God knows. And at the end of the day, that is what truly matters.
“Seek the well-being of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for in its well-being will be your well-being.”
Ryan Everson is currently a pro-life policy intern for the Equal Rights Institute and a political journalism intern for the Washington Examiner. He is also an editor for Lone Conservative and a contributor to Live Action News, The College Fix, and The Catholic Sun.