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COVID-19 moved church home — and families became stronger

As individuals around the world continue to experience uncertainty and fear, the introduction of home-centered church could be the light that each failing heart seeks.

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Andy Hogue bows his head in prayer during a church service in his home in Leander, Texas, on Sept. 6, 2020.

Patrick Meredith, for the Deseret News

Is it possible to find meaning in the midst of a crisis?

Recent reports show that families in the United States are seeking greater purpose this year through increased engagement with religion, even though COVID-19 has restricted some community worship. New insight about the unique power of home-centered religious practice suggests that seeking for spirituality in a time of crisis is often rewarded with increased emotional well-being and more fulfilling family relationships.  

In April, Pew Research released a study showing that a quarter of Americans have felt their faith strengthened during this pandemic despite having church doors closed at times. Although in-person gatherings have been sorely missed, these religious individuals have each felt a shift in their hearts as they’ve carried their faith from their temples, synagogues, mosques or chapels, directly into the center of their homes.

Indeed, The New York Times recently reported that families across the U.S. have found new ways to worship from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. These religious individuals, from all different walks of life, have each come to a similar conclusion that, while this transition has been taxing, it has also provided new meaning to their faith as they have gathered within the walls of their own home. 

Because home worship has become a new normal for many people during COVID-19, the release of an international study by the Wheatley Institution on “Religion in the Home,” that closely examines home-based religious practices, is especially timely.

By combing through pre-COVID data from over 16,000 participants from 11 different nations, researchers examined the direct benefits of religious living and identified countries where religious beliefs and practices are flourishing and floundering.

And the results are remarkable.

After controlling for income and other factors, researchers found that those who worship at home are significantly more likely to report greater life meaning and happiness. Furthermore, couples who worship at home report greater emotional closeness, sexual satisfaction and overall relationship quality. And women in marriages where the couple worships at home are more likely to say they engage in joint decision-making with their spouse. 

The study is able to make these findings by teasing out degrees of religiosity, from those with no religious affiliation or activity (“seculars”), all the way to those who — in addition to attending church regularly — also pray alone and with family, read holy writ and participate in religious conversation multiple times per week in their homes (“home worshippers”).  “Seculars” are also distinguished from “nominals” (believers who rarely, if ever, engage in formal religious activities). 

But a unique contribution is how the study identifies the home worshippers differently from the “attenders,” those who attend religious services but who do not participate in regular religious activity in the home.

The study also provides insight into the vastly different socioreligious climates across the globe. It confirms, for example, that less economically developed nations, such as Columbia, Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina, are more religious. Wealthier nations in the study — such as France, the United Kingdom and Australia — had a majority of secular families.

The introduction of home-centered religious learning and daily worship could be the light that each failing heart seeks.

The United States, however, was an exception among the wealthier nations, with one-third of the population surveying as highly religious, and one-third as secular.

Regardless of the prevailing socioreligious climate, however, an individual’s home-based worship was regularly correlated with positive outcomes for overall life happiness and relationship quality.

As families and individuals around the world continue to experience the uncertainty and fear of the COVID pandemic, the introduction of home-centered religious learning and daily worship could be the light that each failing heart seeks.

As the world wraps up nearly a year of a “new-normal” lifestyle, a new normal of home-centered worship could be the beacon of light we each need. Even as we try to keep the scourge of COVID-19 from invading our lives, allowing regular worship to permeate the walls of our homes could bring increased happiness, meaning and relational growth.

Paul Edwards is director of the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University. Allie Sharp is a senior studying family life at Brigham Young University.