Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

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Children, School and Church

Public health expert Tyler VanderWeele and his team at Harvard examined more than a decade’s worth of data tracking the development of 12,000 children. It was a longitudinal study surveying “social, physical, and mental health trends across the group—like substance abuse, anxiety/depression, community engagement and sexual activity.” Specifically, they wanted to know how four school categories – public, private, religious and homeschool – “might affect the long-term well-being of adolescents.”

Many will find the results surprising.

  • Regarding the key health indicators, there was little difference between the long-term well-being of adolescents who attended public school and those who attended private school.
  • There was only a marginal difference – 10 - 15% – between those who were sent to public school and those who attended schools with faith affiliations. Specifically, those who went to religious schools were marginally “more likely to register to vote, less likely to be obese, and more likely to have fewer lifetime partners by the time they had become young adults.” Negatively, those in religious schools were “slightly more likely to engage in binge drinking.” Children who went to faith-based schools also were “only slightly more likely to attend religious services as young adults than those who went to either secular private or public schools.”


  • There was a significant difference between those who attended public school and those who were homeschooled. “We found a lot of positive, beneficial outcomes of homeschooling,” VanderWeele said. Specifically, homeschooled kids “were more likely to volunteer, forgive others, possess a sense of mission and purpose, and have notably fewer lifetime sexual partners.”  Homeschoolers were also “51 percent more likely to frequently attend religious services into their young adulthood.”
  • Church attendance during adolescence was highly shaping in terms of health and well-being, and far more influential than attending a faith-based school. “What we found was that religious service attendance makes a bigger difference than religious schooling,” VanderWeele said. “Religious service attendance has beneficial effects across the different school types and has stronger effects than religious schooling.”

Translation: “… kids who grew up attending church regularly rated far higher in overall well-being as young adults than those who went to a religious school but did not go to religious services during their formative years.” And for those who did both? Religious service attendance in youth “was clearly the more dominant force.”

In an earlier article for Christianity Today, VanderWeele noted that “regular service attendance helps shield children from the ‘big three’ dangers of adolescence: depression, substance abuse, and premature sexual activity…. People who attended church as children are also more likely to grow up happy, to be forgiving, to have a sense of mission and purpose and to volunteer.”

So, beyond homeschooling getting more than a few shoutouts, perhaps the biggest headline is that regardless of school type,

… you need to get your family in church.

James Emery White


Stefani McDade, “Taking Kids to Church Matters More Than the ‘Right’ School, Study Suggests,” Christianity Today, January 25, 2022, read online.

Ying Chen, Christina Hinton and Tyler J. VanderWeele, “School Types in Adolescence and Subsequent Health and Well-Being in Young Adulthood: An Outcome-Wide Analysis,” Plos One, November 10, 2021, read online.

Tyler J. Vanderweele and Brendan Case, “Empty Pews Are an American Public Health Crisis,” Christianity Today, October 19, 2021, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

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