March 12, 2012

Harvard public policy professor Robert Putnam has a tongue-in-cheek suggestion for pastors: “Spend less time on the sermons, and more time arranging the church suppers.”

That’s because research by Putnam and Chaeyoon Lim, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shows that the more church friends a person has, the happier he or she is.

“Church friends are super-charged friends, but we have no idea why,” Putnam told a Feb. 16 summit on religion, well-being and health at Gallup world headquarters in Washington.

The researchers found that nonchurch friends do not provide the same benefit in terms of well-being and that other measures of religiosity – belief in God or frequency of prayer, for example – do not serve as a reliable predictor of a person’s satisfaction with life.

Churchgoing alone without making friends does not improve well-being, they found.

“In short, sitting alone in the pew does not enhance one’s life satisfaction,” Putnam and Lim wrote.

“Only when one forms social networks in a congregation does religious service attendance lead to a higher level of life satisfaction.”