Perhaps you grew up in a faith tradition and went to worship because our parents and relatives made you. As you grew older, you drifted away from the tradition and stopped worshiping altogether. You’re not sure whether you believe in a higher power and can’t really call yourself spiritual, but you’re open to both ideas.
You’re not alone. Millions of us have an ambiguous relationship with religion. The official term is “agnostic.”
Others are more set in their non-religious ways. They don’t believe in a higher power and aren’t spiritual people — proudly so. They’re atheists.
This is a free country, so we must respect the multitude of faith traditions (and non-faith traditions) followed by our neighbors and compatriots. But that doesn’t have to stop us from asking a very fundamental question that many are too afraid to contemplate: is it better to have faith than no faith?
Those who come into faith later in life would certainly say, “yes.” For them, faith gives purpose, meaning, optimism — the proverbial “new lease on life.”
This is a surprisingly common story. Pastor Mike Signorelli, who founded V1 Church after discovering faith following a long period of atheism, is typical of those who come into faith later in life and find their worlds transformed.
According to Signorelli, his conversion came at a futurist conference, where — in his words — a speaker persuasively told the audience that “the single greatest need of the future for humanity will be spiritual significance.”
Signorelli goes on: The speaker’s words “helped me to understand that whether it’s in business or at home, people are in a desperate search for meaning. We are not necessarily looking for organized religion or another set of rules, but we are longing for the metaphysical during personal difficulties,” he told Influencive.
Signorelli’s experience begs the question we contemplated earlier: is it better to have faith than no faith, and if so, why is that the case?
Buckle up — the answer is a long one. Here are no fewer than 15 benefits of faith development later in life.
1. Faith Is Correlated With Optimism
Faith is closely correlated with optimism. To put it another way, people of faith are more likely to be optimistic — to have a sunny view of the world.
If you’re tired of always seeing the glass half-empty, of feeling as if nothing can go your way, a well-anchored faith could be what you need to turn things around. Faith might just give you something to look forward to.
2. Faith Is a Testament to the Power of Positive Thinking
Optimism is a bit of an abstract concept, isn’t it? Most of us know what it’s like to feel upbeat about the future, in one way or another. But can optimism really be measured?
In a way, yes. Optimism — and faith — lead directly to positive thinking. Positive thinking, in turn, is a powerful thing. In the right hands, it can improve outcomes in the real world. This isn’t to say that faith alone will earn you the promotion you’ve been expecting or land you that big contract you desperately need. But it definitely skews the odds in your favor.
3. When You Have Faith, There’s Always a Community Waiting for You
Ultimately, faith is about community. You can and should explore and deepen your faith in private, in whatever way you choose to worship. At the same time, all faith traditions rely to a greater or lesser extent on community to tie practitioners together. These communities are most visible at houses of worship, of course, but they’re also important fixtures for the broader communities they serve.
In the end, even if you’re a private person at heart, faith is a doorway to a fuller, more rewarding sense of place and belonging. That’s a valuable thing in an increasingly uncertain world.
4. People of Faith Are Fixtures in Their Own Communities
Remaining on the subject of community for a moment, let’s appreciate just how important people of faith can be to those outside their faith traditions. Because faith is correlated with optimism and positive thinking, people of faith often go far in this world, rising to positions of prominence in their career fields and social networks. These people, in turn, serve as role models for younger folks and those who’ve yet to find their way into faith (or find purpose in life). They’re anchors in the best sense of the world.
5. Faith Can Strengthen Families
Faith can strengthen families, too, for much the same reason that it strengthens communities. It’s not necessary that all members of a family worship in the same way or even practice in the same faith tradition, as long as all are bound by the same common understanding, curiosity, and sense of purpose and place that defines people of faith. That’s a powerful bond — one nearly as powerful as the bond of family itself.
6. People of Faith Love to Do Good Works and Help Others
One of the reasons that faith and faith organizations are so important in creating strong communities is their tendency to support good works and community-building work.
Why? Because people of faith tend to do good works in their communities. It’s as simple as that.
Pastor Signorelli, whose faith conversion is described earlier in this narrative, is a perfect example of this truth. Thanks to the power of faith and love for community, Signorelli’s congregation raised more than $300,000 for New York City homeless shelters over three years. That’s an impressive total for a group of ordinary people.
On the other hand, you might argue that this is no group of ordinary people. Perhaps they’re better described as “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” As a person of faith, you’ll have the tools you need to follow in their footsteps.
7. Faith Can Be an Intellectual Pursuit
Faith isn’t only about community, belief, and helping others. It can also be an intellectual pursuit — one that richly rewards those who give their lives and minds over to it.
Every faith tradition is rooted in an oral or textual tradition (we’ll call them texts, for simplicity). Whatever the principles of that tradition, true understanding of the beliefs that anchor it (and the motivations of those who founded it) requires close reading of these texts. That’s an immensely enriching activity for those so inclined.
8. When You Have Faith, You’ll Always Have Role Models
We already noted that, as a person of faith, you’ll have the opportunity to serve as your own sort of role model, inspiring others in your community to do right in the world.
And if you’re not quite ready to serve as a role model? Let’s set aside the fact that anyone, young or old, rich or poor, can be a role model to others. Not everyone is comfortable serving as such. And that’s fine. As a person of faith and a member of a faith community, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with role models who can inspire you to follow your own path and one day claim the mantle on your own.
9. We Can See Our Own Stories in Holy Texts
Let’s circle back to the textual traditions for a moment. Yes, close reading of holy texts can be an intellectual pursuit. Many whip-smart people have given over their lives to doing just this.
But textual traditions are accessible and relevant as well. Crack open your faith tradition’s holy book and you’ll quickly discover stories that seem familiar to your everyday experience, to the real world you and your family move through today.
That’s no accident. These traditions are rooted in historical reality and the human condition. We have much to learn from them and much to gain by seeking to emulate their heroes.
10. People of Faith May Live Longer
This could be yet another benefit of the optimistic disposition shared by many people of faith. According to a study by the Association of American Universities, people of faith tend to live longer (on average) than people of no faith. The gap is quite significant, in fact: about four years. If that’s not an argument to join a faith community, it’s hard to imagine what would be.
11. Faith Helps Us Overcome Trials in Our Own Lives
We often hear stories of people finding faith after tragedies or setbacks in their own lives. While we lament the fact that such triggers are what bring so many people into faith, we should welcome them with open arms and celebrate their contributions.
Think back to a period when you faced your own trial or tribulation. Were you left searching for direction, eager for something that could explain why the world seemed stacked against you? Whether it was the loss of a loved one, a personal health crisis, or a setback in your professional life, you eventually overcame it. But it’s worth asking how differently the situation would have gone had you been able to turn to a vibrant faith community.
12. Faith Gives Us Purpose
One of the reasons people so often turn to faith after personal tragedies or setbacks is faith’s power to provide purpose. People of faith know this well and utilize their purpose-driven approach to life to do good in the world. Those who’ve yet to find faith, well, they’d do well to discover the power of belief to create meaning in a seemingly random universe.
13. Faith Correlates With Higher Self-Esteem
Optimism, purpose, stronger families, longer life. We’re accumulating quite a list of tangible benefits of faith and belief.
We’re not done yet. According to a study from McKendree University, faith is also correlated with higher self-esteem, which in turn is correlated with all sorts of positive outcomes in life: career achievements, prosperity, greater well-being, and more. If you’re tired of feeling as if you’re no better than the next person, or that your life has little value, gaining faith could be a life-altering force for good.
14. Faith Helps Us Deal With Everyday Stress
Life is stressful, no doubt. We all have ways of coping with the pressure, some healthier than others.
Faith undoubtedly falls on the “healthy” side of the dividing line, for all the reasons we’ve explored so far and more. A sense of purpose, of belonging to a community, of having meaning in life’s journey — these are all “side effects” of the coping mechanism that people of faith know as, well, faith. Belief might not put your mind totally at ease, but every little bit helps.
15. Faith Helps Us Talk to Others (Including People Who May Be Very Different From Us)
Finally, faith and the community connections that come with it enables and empowers us to talk and connect with others, including those with whom we outwardly have very little in common. This is a skill that’s in increasingly short supply these days, and one that we should all want to regain if we wish to make the world a better place. Like so much else, the change we wish to see in the world might begin among the faithful.
It’s Never Too Late to Find Your Faith
Whatever you take away from this list, remember one absolute truth: it’s never too late to find your faith. This is true whether you’re a bright-eyed young student or a world-weary soul in the later years of your life. There is always a place for you at the table of faith.
Of course, knowing that you’re always welcome among people of faith and taking affirmative steps to join their ranks are two very different things. The latter is more difficult. It requires — pun intended — multiple leaps of faith. It’s not for the faint of heart.
But those who persevere will be rewarded. Just remember the experience of ecumenical leaders like Mike Signorelli, who came into his faith as a grown adult, long after many of his peers. He didn’t give up; he didn’t back down. He continued on his faith journey, whatever the naysayers would have him do. Today, he leads a vibrant, growing community of believers.
Even if you have no interest in leading others, you have the power to pursue your own faith journey. We’re eager to learn where it takes you.