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21 December 2015

WARNING: the Church is seriously good for your health

At the end of 2015, 1,703 evangelicals responded to our survey on health and wellbeing, covering topics such as how their church responds to those with ill health, the way they view healthy lifestyles and the remedies used to combat ill health.

Encouragingly, the results of the survey show that many evangelical Christians take their health seriously, with 93 per cent agreeing that they should lead healthy lifestyles to look after their God-given bodies. Importantly, the results also illustrate the health value of living in a community - the Church.

The benefits of living in a community that prays for the sick, organises hospital visits and supports the families of those that are suffering, highlights the vital role of the Church to be a place of refuge for those with ill health. 94 per cent said that their church offered prayer when they or a loved one was significantly ill or in hospital, and a large number also stated that their church helped by listening and counselling, cooking meals and more.

However, alongside the survey identifying a focus on bodily health, in stark contrast, a recent report Occupational conditions, self-care and obesity among clergy in the United States[1] found that one third of pastors in the USA are obese, with the equivalent of 23 per cent in the UK. So there are questions about how seriously Christians are taking health and wellbeing issues. 

We also found that a vast majority - 98 per cent - of those surveyed said they believe that God miraculously heals the sick today. In terms of the Church and how we can pray for healing, this has a massive impact. Indeed, a recent article entitled Beliefs in Miraculous Healings, Religiosity and Meaning in Life[2] states that in the results of their survey: "Despite many sceptical arguments, a vast majority of people - approximately 70 per cent - in modern Western societies, share a belief in miracles." 

Our survey also showed how human dignity was seen as being central to a holistic view of health and wellbeing for all generations. Sentiments that contributed to the recent huge parliamentary defeat of the Assisted Dying Bill were reflected in the results of our survey with 65 per cent being strongly opposed to assisted dying becoming law and 17 per cent somewhat opposing it. Given our concern for the most vulnerable in society, the Evangelical Alliance worked hard to make sure this bill was defeated, being the voice for evangelical Christians in our nation. 

In terms of mental health, results were positive, showing 73 per cent were happy overall on the day before the survey was conducted – a common way of assessing this kind of health. In contrast to this, it's now a well known statistic that one in four will suffer a mental health issue in their lifetime, whereas our survey showed that only 27 per cent felt moderate to heavy anxiety. This may be down to the benefits of living in a community where people feel they have a strong support system like the Church to open up and talk to – and of course the power of prayer.

However it also highlights the need for the Church to be a place of love and a source of hope to non-Christians suffering with poor mental health. In April 2014, a survey of the general population by Robertson Cooper about health and wellbeing in the workplace concluded that 30 per cent say they sometimes feel unable to cope, with 32 per cent having mood swings, and 18 per cent reporting having experienced panic or anxiety attacks. Organisations and initiatives to come out of the Church, like Livability, which pioneered the 'Happiness Project', and Premier Mind and Soul, show that Christians are ready to tackle mental health issues. However, as ministry in this area grows, it's important that the Church speaks up for mental health to be recognised as a major issue in society today. From these findings it's clear that the Church has a vital role to play in health and wellbeing and the support it offers to those who are suffering can be life-changing.

1. Just over 88% said that their quality of life is good in relation to their psychological and emotional well-being.
2. 93% said that Christians should lead healthy lifestyles to look after their God given bodies
3. 73% said that 'overall' they felt 'happy' yesterday
4. 50% say that Christians should never try yoga and 48% say they should never try hypnotherapy
5. Only 9% say their church teaches about health issues and the importance of being healthy
6. 98% think that God miraculously heals the sick today
7. 86% says that their church pray for the sick in worship and organise hospital visits for the sick
8. 67% says that their church offers practical support for those facing health issues.
9. 59% think that Churches need training in order to strengthen their healing ministry
10. 65% are strongly opposed to 'assisted dying' becoming law and 17% somewhat oppose it

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