The number of friends you have at your place of worship has more to do with how happy you are than does theology or spirituality, says Chaeyoon Lim, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led a study, “Religion, Social Networks, and Life Satisfaction.”

The study is reported in the recent book, American Grace by David Campbell and Robert D. Putnam. Lim and Putnam, of Harvard University, found that people who have three to five close friends in their congregation are more likely to report they are extremely satisfied with their lives than those people who attend a place of worship but don’t have close friends there. The full report is available as a PDF here.

“To me, the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons or praying that makes people happier, but making church-based friends and building intimate social networks there,” Lim said.

People like to feel that they belong, Lim said. “One of the important functions of religion is to give people a sense of belonging to a moral community based on religious faith,” he said. “This community, however, could be abstract and remote unless one has an intimate circle of friends who share a similar identity. The friends in one’s congregation thus make the religious community real and tangible, and strengthen one’s sense of belonging to the community.”

About the Author
Don Skinner
Don Skinner is editor of InterConnections and a member of the Shawnee Mission UU Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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