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Aging in the Church

How Social Relationships Affect Health

Neal Krause

A growing number of studies indicate that social ties that are formed by older people in the church have a significant positive impact on their physical and mental health. Aging in the Church: How Social Relationships Affect Health by Neal Krause constitutes the first attempt to provide a comprehensive assessment of the various types of relationships that stem from church involvement.

Among the many types of relationships Krause explores are closecompanion friendships, social-support structures (such as assistance provided by fellow church members during difficult times), and interactions that arise from Bible study and prayer groups. Through his thorough investigation of the underlying links between these relationships and the ways they relate to attributes like forgiveness, hope, gratitude, and altruism, the author hopes to explain why older adults who are involved in religious activities tend to enjoy better physical and mental health than those who are not involved in religious communities. Going well beyond merely reviewing the existing research on this subject, Aging in the Church provides a blueprint for taking research on church-based social relationships and health to the next level by identifying conceptual and methodological issues that investigators will have to confront as they delve more deeply into these connections.

Though these are complex issues, readers will find plain language throughout, along with literature drawn from a wide array of disciplines, including sociology, psychology, public health, medicine, psychiatry, nursing, social work, gerontology, and theology. Insights from these diverse fields are supplemented with ideas drawn from literature, poetry, philosophy, and ethics. As a result, Aging in the Church takes on a truly interdisciplinary focus that will appeal to a wide variety of scholars, researchers, and students.

Acknowledgments vii

Chapter 1. Social Relationships in the Church and Health: Problems and Prospects / 3 

  • Religion and Health: What We Know and What We Need to Do Next /  4 
  • Setting Boundaries on the Study of Church-Based Social Ties and Health / 9 
  • Why Research on Church-Based Social Ties and Health in Late Life Is Important / 11 
  • Overview of the Chapters That Follow / 28 
  • Conclusions / 31

Chapter 2. Church-Based Social Support: Getting Help during Difficult Times / 33 

  • Conceptualizing and Measuring Informal Church-Based Social Support / 35 
  • Stress-Induced Psychosocial Deficits / 39 
  • Mobilizing Support from Fellow Church Members / 44 
  • Exploring the Benefits of Church-Based Social Support / 46 
  • Sharpening the Theoretical Underpinnings of Church-Based Social Support / 53 
  • Less Familiar Dimensions of Church-Based Social Support / 65 
  • Bringing Different Kinds of Stressors to the Foreground / 70 
  • Conceptual and Methodological Challenges / 75 
  • Conclusions / 78

Chapter 3. Church-Based Companion Friends / 79 

  • Identifying the Basic Nature of Close Companion Friends / 80 
  • Measuring Close Companion Friendships at Church / 85 
  • Linking Close Companion Friendships with Health and Well-Being / 91 
  • Close Companion Friends in Late Life / 102 
  • Close Companion Friends and Health: A Preliminary Empirical Examination / 103 
  • Conceptual and Methodological Challenges / 106 
  • Conclusions / 112

Chapter 4. Social Relationships That Arise from Formal Roles in the Church / 113 

  • Formal Relationships with the Clergy / 113 
  • Bible Study Groups and Prayer Groups / 127
  • Formal Relationships in Church Volunteer Programs / 134 
  • Formal Assistance for the Homebound / 145 
  • Conclusions / 151

Chapter 5. Negative Interaction in the Church: Exploring the Dark Side of Religion / 155 

  • Measuring Negative Interaction in the Church / 157 
  • Prior Research on Negative Interaction in the Church, Health, and Well-Being / 160 
  • Negative Interaction in the Church and Health: Examining Conceptual Linkages / 162 
  • Negative Interaction with the Clergy / 169 
  • Negative Interaction in the Church during Late Life / 171 
  • Conceptual and Methodological Challenges / 173 
  • Conclusions / 185

Chapter 6. Exploring the Pervasive Influence of Social Structural Factors / 187 

  • A Strategy for Studying Social Structural Variations in Church-Based Social Ties and Health / 189 
  • Variations by Race: Studying Older African Americans / 192 
  • Gender, Church-Based Social Ties, and Health in Late Life / 203 
  • Church-Based Social Ties and Health: Variations by Socioeconomic Status / 216 
  • Conclusions / 229

Chapter 7. Conclusions: Taking a Broader Perspective and Identifying Next Steps / 232 

  • Core Religious Beliefs and Church-Based Social Relationships / 235 
  • General Conceptual and Methodological Challenges / 239 
  • Casting a Broader Net: Delving into the Dark Morass of Subjectivity / 261 

Appendix. Technical Details of the Religion, Aging, and Health (RAH) Survey / 267 

References / 271 

Index / 303

What a tremendous work.  Aging in the Church is Neal Krause's magnum opus, the first and last word on how social relationships mediate religion's impact on physical and mental health.  Theoretically, conceptually, methodologically, this book exemplifies the  very best of what social science has to offer this field." 

Jeff Levin, PhD, MPH., author of God, Faith, and Health; adjunct professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Duke University Medical Center
Christopher G. Ellison, professor of sociology, Elsie and Stanley E. Adams, Sr. Centennial Professor in Liberal Arts, The University of Texas at Austin

Journal of Religion, Disability, and Health

A “must read” for anyone caring for elderly parents, or for caregivers of disabled individuals, each of whom is so valued in our world.

Pam Landis


This masterful study provides an agenda for work to be done, rather than a recap of data already in hand. It will be of practical interest to religious professionals, sociologists, psychologists, gerontologists, and others working with the aging; it is not for casual readers or beginning students.Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students through professionals/practitioners.

C. H. Lippy, formerly at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

The Gerontologist—February, 2010 Issue

Neal Krause says that the purpose of Aging in the Church “is to examine how social relationships that arise in church affect the physical and mental health of older men and women” (p.3). He accomplishes his goal in this comprehensive yet comprehensible compilation of a great deal of social-scientific research (both his own and that of others) on the role that involvement in Christian congregations plays in various health outcomes among elders…The book pulls together a wealth of information in one place for researchers interested in its subject, as well as for those who might want to make a case that “going to church is good for you.”

NICA Book Review

This book effectively and clearly summarizes his findings on social relationships in congregations and the way they contribute to the health and well-being of elders.