Children, School, and Church – Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog


Public health expert Tyler VanderWeele and his Harvard team looked at more than a decade of developmental data from 12,000 children. This was a longitudinal study examining “social, physical, and mental tendencies within the group, such as substance abuse, anxiety/depression, community engagement, and sexual activity.” Specifically, they wanted to know how four categories of schools – public, private, religious, and homeschooling – “could affect the long-term well-being of adolescents.”

Many will find the results surprising.

  • In terms of 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 schools and those who attended church schools. Specifically, those who attended religious schools were slightly “more likely to register to vote, less likely to be obese, and more likely to have fewer lifelong partners by the time they became young adults.” Negatively, those in religious schools were “slightly Continued likely to indulge in excessive alcohol consumption. Children who attended faith-based schools were also “only slightly more likely to attend church services as young adults than those who attended 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 and beneficial results from home schooling,” VanderWeele said. Specifically, homeschoolers “were more likely to volunteer, to forgive others, to possess a sense of mission and purpose, and to have significantly fewer lifelong sexual partners.” Homeschoolers were also “51% more likely to attend religious services frequently into young adulthood.”
  • Church attendance during adolescence was very important in terms of health and well-being, and much more influential than attending a denominational school. “What we found was that church attendance makes a bigger difference than religious schooling,” VanderWeele said. “Attendance of religious services has beneficial effects on different types of schools and has stronger effects than religious schooling.”

Translation: “…children who grew up attending church regularly achieved much higher overall well-being as young adults than those who went to a religious school but did. do not attend church services during their formative years. And for those who have done both? Church attendance among young people “was clearly the most dominant force.”

In a previous article for Christianity today, VanderWeele noted that “Regular attendance at services helps protect 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 have to bring your family to church.

James Emery White


Stefani McDade, “Getting Kids to Church Matters More Than ‘Good’ School, Study Suggests,” Christianity todayJanuary 25, 2022, read online.

Ying Chen, Christina Hinton, and Tyler J. VanderWeele, “Types of Schools in Adolescence and Later Health and Well-Being in Young Adults: A Global Analysis of Findings”, Plos OneNovember 10, 2021, read online.

Tyler J. Vanderweele and Brendan Case, “Empty Benches are an American Public Health Crisis,” Christianity todayOctober 19, 2021, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the assistant 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 at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit, 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 TwitterFacebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

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