How did I manage to miss this until now? Several newspapers and TV outlets have reported the past few days on a supposedly thriving movement of “atheist mega-churches.”
From what I find in the news reports, the meetings aren’t really that widespread, nor are they “mega,” and of course they’re not “churches,” but still … the gatherings clearly speak to a need that we all have for a sense connectedness with something bigger than we are.
Evidently, a series of get-togethers started by two British comedians touched a nerve and has become a hit in a few places — a bunch of people get together with other like-minded folks, sing a lot, hear an inspirational talk, and generally feel connected to the universe without any worries about a judgmental God — or any other kind of god, for that matter.
This should not come as a surprise. Most people love being part of a focused crowd. I’ve not been to many rock or folk concerts in my life, but on those rare occasions, I would notice many people around me singing along with rapt faces, swaying with the music or adopting poses that looked worshipful. For other people, attending sporting events can play a similar role.
People have become increasingly disenchanted with organized religion over the past decades, but they haven’t lost that inner craving to be part of something bigger than themselves. Such occasions are enhanced by (1) a critical mass of people in attendance, (2) enjoyable and well-performed music, and (3) the sense of common cause with others.
The new “Sunday Assembly” in Los Angeles, highlighted in the stories, appears to have all of these, including the cheery motto: “Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More.”
Should Christians fear the rise of worshipful gatherings for people who don’t believe in God? I don’t think so. In fact, I suspect that it won’t be long before many participants in such gatherings feel a yearning for something more, and they may be inclined to seek out a similar fellowship that includes warmth and welcome and purpose, but also the hope of a gracious God who wants the best for us.
If they should visit a real church, let’s pray that’s what they’ll find.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.