What Harvard Discovered About Kids and Church

What Harvard Discovered About Kids and Church

Getting kids to church can be a challenge — at any age. When they are infants it’s because it just takes so much work to pack them up. Kids at that age require so much gear! Later as toddlers, separation anxiety can make dropping them off at the Children’s Ministries area challenging to say the least. With elementary-age kids, sports and other activities can easily compete with and crowd out opportunities for kids to participate in church events. Then as pre-teens and teens, a normal and healthy burgeoning sense of autonomy can be challenging to parental suggestions or expectations for church involvement. 

So as a parent — at any stage — the question on any given weekend can understandably be Is it worth the effort and energy to help get my kids to church this week? 

Now I am a pastor so I know you’re probably not going to be shocked if I say, Yes! It’s worth it. (It feels a little like asking a personal trainer if working out is worth it. Of course they are going to say yes.) So I’m going to let someone else answer the question. 

Recently, Christianity Today magazine published a summary of findings about children’s health from researchers at Harvard’s (yes, that Harvard) T. H. Chan School of Public Health (i.e. not pastors). 

The researchers led by Tyler VanderWeele “…examined a large swath of data, collected over more than a decade, which tracked the development of 12,000 nurses’ children into their young adulthood. The longitudinal study surveyed social, physical, and mental health trends across the group—like substance abuse, anxiety/depression, community engagement, and sexual activity.”

The team was curious about how schooling choices and religious service attendance correlated to health outcomes. Here’s what they found:

In comparing key health indicators, the researchers found little difference between the long-term well-being of adolescents who attended public school and those who went to private school. (All of the kids who participated were between the ages of 9-14 when the study began.)  

So parents you can breathe a little sigh of relief there. But what about religious service attendance? How much does that matter? 

“What we found was that religious service attendance makes a bigger difference than religious schooling,” [VanderWeele] said. “Religious service attendance has beneficial effects across the different school types and has stronger effects than religious schooling.”


In other words, the kids who grew up attending church regularly rated far higher in overall well-being as young adults than those who went to a religious school but did not go to religious services during their formative years.

Did you catch that? If you take two kids — one who attends church once a week regularly and another who goes to a religious school five days a week but attends church only sporadically — it is the regular church attendee who fares better. The researchers concluded that “…religious service attendance in youth was clearly the more dominant force in shaping health and well-being, at least as this pertains to the data and experiences 20 years ago.” 

Here’s the bottom line from the Christianity Today summary: 

Furthermore, “regular service attendance helps shield children from the ‘big three’ dangers of adolescence: depression, substance abuse, and premature sexual activity,” VanderWeele writes in his latest article for Christianity Today. “People who attended church as children are also more likely to grow up happy, to be forgiving, to have a sense of mission and purpose, and to volunteer.”


“So regardless of school type,” VanderWeele says, “it’s beneficial to go to religious services, both as an adolescent and as an adult.”

These findings highlight the beauty and wisdom of God’s design for the local church. When parents dedicate their children at Christ Community, one of the questions they are asked is: Do you promise, before God and this congregation, that you will be faithful in worship, both in the home and in the church?

Those two spaces —the home and church — are vital to human health and flourishing. This is why Christ Community’s Children’s Ministries and Student Ministries staff and volunteers put so much effort into equipping parents. Parents play an outsized role in their children’s faith development. However, what the Harvard analysis shows  is clear. It isn’t enough to simply be faithful in worship at home if we want our children to truly flourish. It also requires being faithful in a worshiping community; a local church.

A Lasting Impact

A Lasting Impact

Guest Author: Melody McSparran

As the college football season gets underway, it is the time of year when many proclaim their zeal for their beloved alma mater. Winning or losing, we all hold a deep attachment to the schools that have shaped us during pivotal times of our lives. But there may be an educational institution you have never attended and may not even think about that has deeply impacted you.

All of the Christ Community pastoral residents and many of our pastors have received their theological training from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS,) and therefore, those of us who sit in the worship centers of Christ Community and hear their sermons have also been significantly shaped by this institution.

In my 26 years at Christ Community, I know my life has been profoundly shaped by the faithful teaching of Scripture by our pastors, but it wasn’t until I became a TEDS student and more recently a board member, that I began to appreciate the deep connection of our church with this seminary.

What is so special about TEDS and why do we hold it closely as a partner in the mission of our church? Ken Kantzer, a strategic leader who spearheaded the founding of TEDS in 1963, proclaimed that Trinity was the Evangelical Free Church of America’s “love gift” to the local and global church.

The roots of the school date to the late 1800’s when Scandinavian Christians immigrated to the American Midwest. They established “free” churches, meaning churches who were independent from government control, deeply committed to proclaiming the gospel, to Bible exposition and ongoing missionary efforts. The Scandinavians began to set up their own schools for pastoral training and eventually merged them in 1946 to form Trinity Seminary and Bible College on Chicago’s north side. Eventually the campus resettled in Bannockburn, a north Chicago suburb, where TEDS resides today.

By the 1960s, many seminaries had abandoned their evangelical commitments or were lacking the academic rigor needed to respond to the challenges of secular academia and a changing culture. Ken Kantzer believed that graduate level seminaries who were committed to Christian orthodoxy were crucial to shaping future pastors, who in turn, would provide their congregants with a biblical worldview and fortify the church to effectively address the culture. So they set out to hire some of the best biblical scholars in the world.

This blueprint for the future, created by TEDS early leaders, transformed the small denominational school into a major academic institution, serving the broader evangelical world. One of the early draws for students to TEDS that continues today, is that it hires professors from different evangelical backgrounds and traditions, and encourages robust debate and transformational learning.

Christ Community is blessed to be partnered with this amazing institution. And while it may not have a winning football team, we certainly have many reasons to be thankful for TEDS and the impact it has made on all of us!

A Prayer for Students

In the coming weeks many of our students will be returning to school. Some will return to the schools they were in last year, while others are starting afresh on a new campus, or in a new building with new teachers and new classmates.

No doubt some of them are finding this season to be fraught with difficulty, while others may be elated by the chance to reconnect with old friends, or make new friends. Regardless of where they are on the emotional spectrum, we wanted to share this prayer of blessing as they continue on in their calling as students in this season of life.

Whether you have kids or not, we invite you to pray this prayer over all of our students.

Father in heaven, the start of every school year brings with it a mix of emotions. With so many changes that can be both overwhelmingly joyful and unbearably sorrowful, we pray that you would be found to be the unchanging God who remains constant in a world of ever changing variables.

Lord, as our students enter their schools may they know that you are already there and that you have gone before them. If they go to chemistry class, behold you are there. As they ride the school bus, you are also there. When they enter the locker room, indeed you are there.

But may they not simply be aware of your presence in their lives. May they also see your glory and your hand at work in the subjects that they study. May they see your beauty in their art classes. May they see the glory of your creation in biology. May they see your providential hand in world history. May they see your creative brilliance in mathematics.

And in all of this, may they see your great love as they grow in the knowledge of you and your world.

We pray that this year would be a year of relational, intellectual, moral, cultural, and spiritual renewal for our students and for those that they come in contact with. May they come to see the beauty and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ that tells of the good news that we have not just been saved from something, but that we have been saved for something. May they live as your “sent ones” in the world as they display your goodness, proclaim your truth, and live out your mission.

Oh Lord, may this year be used by you to equip our students to more faithfully and fruitfully love and serve others for the common good of all and to the glory of your name.

We pray this in the name of Christ and for his glory.