Falling church attendance? Blame it on higher life expectancy!

April 11th, 2011 - 11:55 am ICT by ANI  

Washington, April 11 (ANI): Researchers have suggested that churches will continue to attract older congregations because increasing life expectancy tend to discourage religious participation until later in life.

The study, by Elissaios Papyrakis at the University of East Anglia and Geethanjali Selvaretnam from the University of St Andrews in the UK, said that religious organisations need to do more to highlight the social and spiritual benefits of participation in religion in present day life if they are to increase congregation sizes and attract people of all ages, particularly young people.

It looked at the impact of life expectancy on religiosity - the extent of religious dedication and expression - and the decisions made by individuals about when to become involved in religion.

Papyrakis and Selvaretnam analysed religiosity using a cost-benefit economic model, where decisions at each point in time depend on social and spiritual benefits attached to religious adherence, the probability of entering heaven in the afterlife, as well as the costs of formal religion in terms of time allocated to religious activities.

In recent years, religious establishments have been concerned about decreasing religious expression and participation in most parts of the world, particularly in developed economies, with many churches seeing older and dwindling congregations.

Previous studies have attempted to attribute these differing patterns in religiosity to several socio-economic variables, including the level of economic development, government regulation of the ‘religion market’ and suppression of religion.

However, the new research explores the role of life expectancy in explaining differences in religious expression around the world.

“The findings have important policy implications for what churches want to do and how they attract members,” said Papyrakis.

“Many religions and societies link to some degree the cumulative amount of religious effort to benefits in the afterlife. We show that higher life expectancy discounts expected benefits in the afterlife and is therefore likely to lead to postponement of religiosity, without necessarily jeopardising benefits in the afterlife,” he added.

“For this reason, religious organisations should be prepared to accept and attract a ‘greying church’, with membership skewed towards the older generation, particularly in countries which have high life expectancy or expect significant increases in life expectancy, for example due to improvements in medical care or declines in critical infection rates,” said Papyrakis.

“To increase overall attendance, religious establishments should aim to reduce any discomfort of entry to religious newcomers, both old and young. This may involve making information about the organisation easily accessible to them and helping newcomers to follow religious activities without feeling lost or uncomfortable.

“In light of rising life expectancy, it is important to emphasise socio-economic and spiritual benefits that can be enjoyed during one’s lifetime on earth. These benefits can counterbalance the negative impact of life expectancy on religiosity - which in effect reduces concern about life after death - and therefore encourage religious involvement,” he added.

In poorer countries where life expectancy remains low, a larger share of the population, both young and old, is concerned about what happens after death, which naturally encourages religious participation.

The study is published online in the International Journal of Social Economics. (ANI)

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