Do You Need Religion to Enjoy the Benefits of Church Services? Social Bonding, Morality and Quality of Life Among Religious and Secular Congregations

Jennifer E. Brown, Valerie van Mulukom, Sarah J. Charles, Miguel Farias

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)
    270 Downloads (Pure)


    Participation in religion has frequently been associated with high levels of wellbeing. Few studies, however, have directly compared the effect of participating in a religious versus a secular congregation. The creation of the Sunday Assembly, in effect a secular “church,” has created the opportunity to make direct comparisons between religious and nonreligious congregations. We hypothesize that a coherent moral narrative and specific moral values contribute to increased wellbeing for religious relative to secular traditions. Through a survey of three traditions (conservative religious, mainstream religious, and secular) we compared quality of life (QoL), levels of social bonding, and moral thinking. Connectedness to one’s congregation was positively associated with overall QoL, as was the degree to which participants believed their values matched those of others in their group. Actual within-group similarity of moral values was not related to connectedness or QoL. Religious theological traditions, compared with secular, predicted social and environmental health, but not other QoL domains. There were no differences between religious and secular participants for within-group moral similarity, although religious participants held a distinct set of moral values not found among secular participants. These results suggest believing one shares moral values with one’s congregation may contribute to QoL. Religious congregations appear to promote a unique moral perspective not found in secular congregations, and to promote wellbeing in some areas of life. The cause of this difference in wellbeing is unclear, although the moral values promoted by religion may be a contributing factor, and further study in this area is warranted.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)308-318
    Number of pages11
    JournalPsychology of Religion and Spirituality
    Issue number2
    Early online date28 Oct 2021
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2021

    Bibliographical note

    ©American Psychological Association, 2021. This paper is not the copy
    of record and may not exactly replicate the authoritative document
    published in the APA journal. The final article is available, upon
    publication, at:


    • Christianity
    • churchgoing
    • wellbeing
    • congregations
    • Sunday Assembly
    • morality
    • religious
    • Secular

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Social Psychology
    • Religious studies
    • Applied Psychology


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