Atheist Churches for All? The Sunday Assembly Wants to Create a Global Platform

The Sunday Assembly (a.k.a. The Atheist Church) is getting ready for the next phase of its growth: Making it easier for people to begin their own assemblies.

To that end, they’re launching a major fundraising campaign to create a professional website that can make that whole process all the more seamless:

Their goal is £500,000 — more than $800,000 — though this is an Indiegogo campaign, not a Kickstarter (meaning they’ll keep whatever they earn, regardless of whether or not they reach the goal).

One of the common criticisms of the Assembly — I just heard it from a reporter on Friday — is that it’s too much like religion. I could dispute that easily, but I would urge co-founders Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans to do the one thing that would crush those kind of arguments in a heartbeat: Make all the finances transparent. Show exactly where the money goes. Release all future tax returns for the Assembly. (The image above, taken from the fundraising video, explains where the £500,000 would go and is a good start.) Christian churches are notorious for hiding where all the tithes and other donations go, and I would love to see “transparency” used as a retort to anyone who claims “it’s just like religion.”

Jones spoke to Wired (UK) about the campaign:

He describes the monthly service as the Minimum Viable Product. “It’s the smallest thing you can do to start the community,” Jones explains. Once people have learned how to do that, they can add more volunteers, then “add a book club, a philosophy club, then make it twice a month and then weekly…” he adds.

Beyond the meetups, Jones has ambition to move towards community action projects. “So many things churches do are really amazing. We want to combine that urge with the scalable backend and then it’s really crazy to think about what we could achieve.”

“If you talk about there being no God or humanism, people don’t always know what that feels like. But we celebrate life. Just being alive is this wonderful thing and it really inspires people to do stuff.”

Incidentally, there have been other atheist groups trying to do similar things and it’s led to pseudo-infighting. Alain de Botton has his School of Life complete with a “Sunday Sermon.” (Botton said to Time Out London: “Sunday Assembly is a blatant rip-off of what we do.”) In New York, a group has split from the Sunday Assembly to create a more Capital-A-Atheist-friendly Godless Revival.

None of them are original. All of them are borrowing and adapting ideas that churches have been using for a long time now. The biggest difference in my mind is that Evans and Jones have found a way to connect with more people than anyone else. They’ve made their vision more appealing to the masses and they’re hoping their fundraising campaign makes it even more scalable.

If you’d like to contribute to their efforts, you can do so here.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • mkbell

    Both as a theist and now as a non-theist I have belonged to a lot of churches and the finances of all of them have been completely transparent. Yes, there are churches for which that is not true, but to suggest that non-transparency is a feature of churches is grossly unfair.

    • Houndentenor

      Same here. Many churches have a monthly business meeting and every penny that has been donated or spent is accounted for. There are a great many where this is not true (and imho it should be required by law for all nonprofit organizations) but it’s wrong to pretend that it’s typical of all churches to keep these things secret. That’s just not the case. In fact, I’d be wary to donate to any organization that wasn’t that transparent. What are they hiding?

    • Jeffrey G. Johnson

      Are the “700 Club” finances transparent? How about John Hagee Ministries and Christians United for Israel? How about the Catholic church? It looks like this atheist church is going for the global scope, which means pretty big money and lots of lucrative business opportunities.

      Small community churches are one thing, but national and global religious businesses are another.

  • TnkAgn

    Not for me, thank you. I’ll be at the altar of the NFL on Sundays until February.

    • Redag

      Is it awful of me to suggest that it probably helps nobody to worship at an ‘alter’? Spelling matters.

      • TnkAgn

        Dang! Seems I played w/o a helmet here. Thanks.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Technically, though, it doesn’t help anybody to worship at anything, however it is spelled.

  • A3Kr0n

    My “church” is the homeless shelter on Sunday mornings where I cheerfully hand out laundry soap and toilet paper.

  • litesp33d

    Sunday Assemblies?
    250k for a ‘website’.
    Million dollar fund raiser to ‘help’ people.

    Not a religion?
    Are you sure?

    • cyngus

      If it was “Monday Assemblies”, it would make sense:
      “In the beginning, it was Monday, God said: ‘I don’t exist, but theists needed up to Sunday to invent me’ “.

  • Fred

    Ugh! Kill this with fire.

    • Redag

      Could you elaborate? Do such projects not need staff? Do volunteers not need buses, and sing-alongs not need audio systems?

      • Fred

        Yes. Read pretty much 95% of the comments on this post.

      • cyngus

        Do you need staff to say to a proselytizing Christian: “Please move along with your Jesus inside your church”?

  • Mick

    I’ll be glad when this ersatz church runs out of steam and we never hear of it again.

  • Gary J Parker

    what a complete and utter, pathetic waste of time. I can think of a thousand things I’d rather be doing on a Sunday morning than this (making a lovely fryup, walking the beach, riding my motorbike in the early morning sunshine, shagging the missus, sleeping in, watching the Sunday footie games for starters) One of the more objectionable things about christianity was the insistence on attending a terminally dull dronefest every frikkin’ Sunday morning and the content wasn’t the most objectionable thing about it.. I am not overly fond of humans at the best of time and the thought of spending an entire weekend morning stuck in a fecking room full of ‘em is deeply depressing. This “assembly” won’t be getting any of my dosh. Laughable and transparently profit driven. But for the absence of woo, I’d say someone took a leaf out of L Ron Hubbard’s book….

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    I have no urge to attend one of these… things, but in regards to so very many comments about them:

    [EDIT: NOOOO, image fail. Damn you, Disqus, for helping me look stupider than usual.]

    • Jeffrey G. Johnson

      I do hate the idea. It makes me ashamed to be an atheist. I guess atheist church will corrupt the whole idea of atheism, so I’ll just have be an anti-theist and an anti-pseudo-theist. Even when I was a Christian I thought church was one of the biggest problems with religion. Now I think that even more so. The idea of atheists creating a church makes me feel ill.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        Can’t they be paratheists instead of pseudotheists? It still has a negative association, but at the same time it makes them sound kind of action-adventurey. Compromise!

        • Jeffrey G. Johnson

          Okay. Let’s give them credit for parachuting in behind enemy lines.

  • nonfictions

    500,000 pounds.
    To make a website.

    • Redag

      A website that is built core skin as an organizing measure. A peer to Facebook or Don’t trivialize to argue your point, that rush of triumph is just foolishness.

      • ShoeUnited

        Why? And why do you think you’ll start with an install base that’ll warrant 500k pounds?

      • cyngus

        A simple “I disbelieve your Jesus” does not need money to be expressed.

        • FTP_LTR

          This isn’t just about expressing non-belief though, cyngus. Isn’t it a platform for organising a community of sorts?

          I can’t watch the videos due to company firewalls and the like.

          On the face of it, I’m not sure what GBP240k of website will provide, but I can see that it’d potentially be a great moneymaking vehicle. I’m a cynic.

          The benefits of the Sunday Assembly concept are different to the benefits of some dedicated community-building social network through which to organise it.

          How hard is it to tell people how to organise a monthly meeting, weekly book group, fortnightly orgy, bi-annual cake sale, or whatever they choose? Maybe I’m missing something. I don’t get the whole community thing – I have no interest in spending Sunday morning with a group of people to share my love of not-Jesus or Jesus.*

          (*Or Allah, JHVH, Yahweh, Shiva, Rama, Buddha, Wayne Rooney, Mickey Rooney or Pasta, for that matter)

          • cyngus

            Atheism is not only about expressing disbelief in the presence of theism, it is really an incapacity to imagine or create religions when your realize that religions are just lies.

          • Jeffrey G. Johnson

            Exactly. It’s not as if human society is devoid of community, devoid of actions or causes or interests or other constructive or recreative activities one can pursue. The addition of this particular one seems to me to closely resemble religion in that opportunistic individuals are taking material advantage of “lost souls” who can’t find a better way to live their lives.

  • Jeffrey G. Johnson

    This plan for global domination seems to be proceeding on par with my expectations. This is quickly becoming a business and source of career opportunity for lots of people. I wonder how much money the franchisees will have to send to the central committee each year? And how many years before we have an Atheist Pope (cleverly disguised by an alternate title)? What kinds of edicts will be issued to keep the member churches adhering to orthodox atheism?

    • McAtheist

      Thanks for posting my thoughts

  • Jeffrey G. Johnson

    I already don’t believe in all the other religions of the world. It’s no problem to disbelieve in one more religion, even one created by nominal atheists.

    • Ian

      No true Scotsman fallacy?

      • Jeffrey G. Johnson

        I suppose if I took out the word “nominal” your point would not apply. But at what point does a Scotsman cease to be a Scotsman (true or not)? Presumably a minimal definition would be someone who lived in Scotland or is descended from people who lived in Scotland. This likely includes many people that other Scotsmen would deny Scottishness. Other definitions could be more restrictive.

        What is the minimal definition of an Atheist? Does not believe that God exists, where God is defined in the theistic sense of being an intentional creator who intervenes and has plans and wishes for humanity, and has personal relationships with humans. So technically, by that definition, an atheist could build a religion that does not depend on believing in God, and still be an atheist.

        I guess then in addition to being an atheist and an anti-theist, I’m also an anti-religionist, whether the religion is theistic or atheistic.

  • Stan

    The term “atheist church,” is, quite simply, a ludicrous oxymoron.

  • Leonidas

    I actually like this idea. I hope they get a Sunday Assembly together here in Orlando. I miss the singing and community and symbolism that being a member of a congregation, and the potential for discussions of philosophy and cosmology that certain* groups could spark after the service. But the whole believing in god thing just isn’t happening for me anymore.

    *Those groups were more rare than not, I’m afraid. Most are anti-intellectual.

  • ShoeUnited

    I’ll never for the life of me understand what positives can be accomplished with a building, a website, and waking up at 10 A.M. that an afternoon picnic in the park can’t.

  • allein

    One of the common criticisms of the Assembly — I just heard it from a reporter on Friday — is that it’s too much like religion. I could dispute that easily

    Maybe start by not referring to it as “atheist church” in every post about it?

    • Jeffrey G. Johnson

      So it’s the optics, not the substance, that matters? In what way is it not formally like a church, other than the fact that nobody adheres to the belief that is the one basis of forming a church?

      • allein

        I do think it’s the substance that matters (even if the whole thing doesn’t appeal to me for at least a few reasons; if it works for you, have at it). From what I understand, the people running it don’t call it “church,” yet in just about every post about it that I’ve seen here, there’s some kind of parenthetical “atheist church” comment used to describe it, while at the same time insisting that it’s not “like religion.” If you want to dispute that it’s “too much like religion” then I just think that a good place to start is by not comparing it to the religious construct that the majority of readers are probably most familiar with, every time you talk about it. (Even though the format does seem to be similar, which is one of the reasons it doesn’t appeal.)

        • Jeffrey G. Johnson

          I don’t at all dispute that it is too much like church. I fully agree it is identical to church. Churches have always existed without God, and the congregations have always believed to a greater or lesser degree. Just because the church is full of atheists doesn’t really change its nature. It’s still church.

          Snake oil salesmen have always called their product by some name other than what it actually is. I say call a spade a spade. It’s clearly church. And in my view, it’s clearly absurd and foolish.

          • allein

            Re: “dispute” – I was actually referring to Hemant’s post, there. It was a general “you”; sorry.

          • cyngus

            …quacks like a duck, walks like a duck… must be a church

  • rg57

    It’s not for me, although the Godless Revival does sound the most appealing … except how do you “revive” something that never “vived” until now anyway?

    But I’d much rather see people going to these places than to any religion derived from a man willing to murder his son because voices.

  • DougI

    Once Atheists start getting tax exempt status for their buildings then Christians might start rethinking this entire automatic tax exemption for churches.

  • Vliediediet Von Vunstughen

    No sacrificial altar? It’s all about the priorities I say. :)

  • cyngus

    I have a question: Why this assembly is called “godless” and not “dogless”?
    The assembly does not say that they allow dogs, so it is dogless.

    We know dogs exist, so an assembly without dogs is dogless. It does not make sense to make an assembly “godless” when we know that god does not exist.

    A “godless” assembly looks stupid: “Let’s gather around and talk about something that does not exist.”

  • Kellen Connor

    I went to a Sunday Assembly in DC this week, and it was absolutely marvelous. I met warm, friendly, intelligent people and we laughed our asses off. And, no, it’s not a religion. It’s a community. Religions tell you what to believe. Sunday Assembly doesn’t care what you believe. The point is to get together and celebrate something that everybody knows: today, right now, we are alive. That’s it. That’s seriously it, you guys.