Prayer is a universal practice among the various forms of religion, spirituality, and faith found in the U.S. today. Regardless of belief or tradition, many Americans pray to address health concerns like a chronic illness or an acute injury. As a result, prayer for healing has become one of the most common petitions offered in society.
To better understand the role of healing prayer in our country, Wordthrive.com surveyed 1,001 American adults and examined their prayer habits since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Read on to see what we uncovered about the practice and impact of prayers for healing in America.
- Older Americans prayed daily or weekly more often than younger Americans: Baby Boomers (40%), Gen X (29%), Gen Y (21%), Gen Z (8%).
- Almost half of respondents (47%) have prayed for someone to be healed since COVID began, with family, friends, and strangers being the top three recipients.
- 44% of those who prayed for specific healing felt that God answered their prayers.
- The top three reasons to pray for healing were general wellness, recovery from COVID, and mental health.
- When faced with a COVID infection, 44% of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed that seeking medical care and praying at the onset of illness was essential.
Regular Prayer Habits
Even though America is becoming increasingly secular, Google trends showed an unusual peak in searches for prayer at the onset of COVID-19 in April 2020. It’s a notable sign of a change in Americans’ prayer habits as a spike this large hasn’t been seen for 20 years.
A sizable number of Americans have turned to prayer during these unprecedented times. According to our survey results, 47% of Americans have prayed for someone to be healed since COVID began. Baby boomers also stood out as the most prayerful generation as we observed that regular prayer habits declined with each successive generation.
While many older Americans still hold onto the tradition of prayer, it hasn’t been easy for them to pass the practice onto subsequent generations. This downward trend in prayerfulness might be due to the rise of younger Americans who have rejected traditional religion or adopted new-age practices like meditation.
According to a Pew Research Center study about Americans’ belief in God, adults under the age of 50 are more likely to not believe in a higher power or spiritual force. However, 80% of the youngest generation of adults said they believed in at least some kind of spiritual force, which might account for a spike in prayer during extreme times of need.
What Types of Healing Do Americans Seek?
When we looked at participants who prayed for healing, three main health topics stood out:
- General wellness
- Healing from COVID
- Mental health
Considering how quickly the coronavirus spreads and how much stress the pandemic has caused, it’s not surprising that COVID recovery and mental health were at the top of Americans’ health concerns. Healthcare facilities have often been overwhelmed with patients, and mental health facilities have also reported an uptick in calls to report psychological problems since the pandemic began.
Scientific studies have shown that the pandemic has greatly affected Americans’ mental health. Isolation, fear, and worry have led to a significant rise in anxiety and depression among adults in the U.S., especially among those aged 18 to 29. During the pandemic, more than 40% of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression—an almost 30% increase from pre-pandemic times.
Workplace wellness has also been seriously impacted by the pandemic. Stress, illness, and workforce shortages have caused mental and/or physical burnout for many people.
Declining wellness and the desire for a better quality of life led millions of Americans to quit their jobs in 2021, which sparked the trend known as the Great Resignation. Due to these current circumstances and more, prayers for wellness have become the most common supplication made by Americans.
Praying for Those Around Us
When Americans are praying for healing, we found they most often do so for family and friends. Praying for strangers was also reported among 40% of respondents.
People more often prayed for family, friends, and strangers than for themselves. Faced with challenges like stay-at-home orders, online schooling, and remote work, adjusting to a new normal was difficult for many of us. It’s therefore understandable that the burden of caring for others may have inspired people to pray for their wellness and to keep close friends in mind, too.
Praying for Strangers vs. Coworkers
Our study showed that Americans are more likely to pray for strangers (40%) than coworkers (17%). Privacy concerns might be why people seem to care more about strangers than for those they work with regularly. Social media and news reports also lead to a greater awareness of those who are suffering from health issues. People may feel moved to pray for someone’s healing once they know they are suffering, whether prayers were solicited or unsolicited in the media.
Places Where Americans Pray
It’s significantly more likely that prayers for healing are prayed individually than in a place of worship or in small groups: 75% of Americans prayed alone for the health of their loved ones or for themselves.
Privacy might be the driving factor for the preference of individual prayer among Americans. It’s also a convenient way to pray as it can be accomplished wherever and whenever the individual prefers. Many churches have also been holding services online, which has reduced and disrupted regular access to group healing prayers. Further study is necessary to determine the main drivers for individual prayer compared to other forms.
Healing Prayers and Gender
Praying can be a way to express concern and care for those facing illness, and women may be more naturally wired for caregiving efforts than men. New research from the University of British Columbia suggests that men internalize different values than women and place less importance on care-oriented careers. These findings may help explain the disparity we found between women and men who pray for healing.
Another study by the Pew Research Center reported that American women are more likely than men to pray daily. Their worldwide findings also concluded that women were more likely than men to belong to a religious group and more likely to say that religion was very important in their lives. The importance of prayer and religion among women might explain why we found that 20% more women than men prayed for healing.
Do Healing Prayers Make an Impact?
Despite the difficulty in measuring the results of prayers, nearly one in two Americans who prayed for a specific healing believed their prayers were answered. Scientists have debated the role of prayer in recovery for decades, and it’s a topic that remains controversial.
Among the currently healthy Americans we surveyed, 44% strongly or somewhat agreed that seeking medical care and praying at the same time was essential in the event of a COVID infection. Regardless of religious affiliation, nearly half of our participants perceived that healing prayers helped the sick.
Scientific research into the power of healing prayer has discovered some interesting results in recent years. Studies of the brain have shown that all forms of prayer, regardless of religion, create a relaxation response in the brain. According to Harvard scientist Dr. Herbert Benson, prayer has been proven to quiet the mind and body, ease stress, and promote healing.
Researcher Dr. Harold Koenig helped document over 1,000 studies about the connection between prayer and healing. This research concluded that religious people tend to live healthier lives and that those who prayed became sick less often. Religious people also suffered from depression less often, and when they did, they recovered more quickly than those who practice no faith.
Many Americans are generally not interested in praying regularly, however, many people turn to prayer for health. Older generations of Americans are more likely to uphold religious traditions and continue to pray in times of difficulty, while younger generations turn to prayer when under duress. Americans pray for the health of family, friends, and strangers more often than they do for themselves, and they prefer to pray alone rather than in groups. Prayers for healing can have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of yourself and others.
We surveyed 1,001 U.S. adults (ages 18+) using Qualtrics and Prolific on Dec 15, 2021. For the analysis, we defined baby boomers as respondents born between 1946 and 1964, Generation X as respondents born between 1965 and 1980, millennials as respondents born between 1981 to 1996, and Generation Z as respondents born after 1996.