TOPIC: The Human Need for Community
FINDING: Atheists Give Starting Their Own Churches (called The Sunday Assembly) a Try (Click “Finding” text to tweet. Thanks!)
One implication of atheist churches is that (hopefully) they may help lonely people connect with others. That’s good. Humans need community. Atheist churches may also encourage atheists to “help others often”. I say, welcome aboard. Too many hurting people out there to demand a monopoly on caring.
Another implication may be the development of atheist communities that are about more than “what they don’t believe”. The Sunday Assembly mission statement- “live better, help often, wonder more”- is hardly atheist. It would fit nicely within the mission statement of many Theistic churches too. And, without a reason, a purpose, a mission beyond “non-belief” these communities would most likely fizzle. Hopefully, these atheist churches will inspire generosity and self sacrifice as have many of the Theistic churches. There’s not enough of that going around and every bit of help is appreciated.
The loss of a sense of community is a symptom of the malaise that afflicts western culture. Partly in response to this, over the last 4 decades, Christians have made huge efforts to start new churches in the west.
In part, this is premised on the need all humans feel for community. The need for community is so powerful that now even atheists are seeking to satiate the hunger.
Because I work with many young leaders who are starting new enterprises many of which are new churches, I can tell you that starting a new church is hard. These new “atheists churches” may experience an early surge because there are many self-identified atheists who long for a place to belong. But these efforts may flounder in time because the “need for one another” is not a strong enough adhesive for community. Personally, I think they’ve got an uphill climb.
I doubt, for example, that their numbers are growing as rapidly as they think. Recent demographic research has identified a growing population that does not identify with religion. They are called “nones”. But the so called “nones”, who do not identify with any religion, may actually represent a large number of devout believers who no longer identify with the institutional church. In fact, many people that I know would claim to be a “none” because of their devotion to their faith.
Another challenge before these new churches that will emerge after the initial surge is the development of a mission. Take the efforts to launch new Christian churches. The “need for community” that helps new Christian churches start is only one part of the recipe that helps them thrive. Another essential piece is the “bigger picture”, the grand narrative, that gives meaning and purpose to the new community. Even with this important piece, starting a new church is difficult work.
Will atheists succeed in finding a purpose, a mission that will breathe life into their community development efforts? Just “getting together” may not be enough. In order to thrive, these atheist churches will need both a sense of mission and healthy leadership. Ironically, if atheists communities are to succeed, they will need to “believe” in something. Whatever they “believe” and act upon will define their “faith”.
As mentioned above, one of the implications of atheists churches is that (hopefully) they may help lonely people connect with others. That’s good. They may also encourage atheists to “help others often”. I say, welcome aboard. Too many hurting people out there to want a monopoly on caring.
Does it matter if a lonely human is cared for by those who do not believe? Or, if a person is encouraged to be a better person by someone who does not believe?
For me, I’m happy to see anyone — atheist or theist — strive to make this world a little more human.
The mission statement for The Sunday Assembly is “live better, help often, wonder more”. For me “making the world human” through “living better, helping often, and wondering more” is only a small part of the human story, but it’s a good part of the story.
Christians, in particular, should rejoice when others seek to emulate their efforts to make this world better for everyone. And we should try to help others who are trying to figure it out. After all, Christians, in spite of the decline of the institutional churches in the West, are expert at community creation and development and would be helpful resources to these new communities.
An even better resource would be the life and teachings of Jesus. He does not belong to the church. He belongs to the world. And he knew a thing or two about creating community.
The gospel has had enough energy to sustain a movement for over two thousand years without any signs of burning out. If anything, it burns hotter today than ever and still churns out thousands of new communities around the world. Christian churches and leaders would be a great resource for atheist churches and their leadership, should they ever run dry or need help figuring how to keep communities together. After all, becoming human is not easy and we could all use a little help.
“…the Sunday Assembly is a British import, but with a difference: This church doesn’t believe in God. It’s motto is “live better, help often, and wonder more.” It’s striving to be a global atheist religion.”
“The stated goal is to have ‘a godless congregation in every town, city, and village that wants one’ — and hopefully 30 to 40 by the end of December. If they reach that goal, the Sunday Assembly says in a press release, ‘the 3000 percent growth rate might make this non-religious Assembly the fastest growing church in the world, catering to the fastest growing belief / non-belief group.'”
(2) The Sunday Assembly Main Website
(3) JWT Intelligence