The Sunday Assembly Isn’t An Atheist Megachurch, No Matter What the Media Says

Over the weekend, Gillian Flaccus wrote an article for the Associated Press about the rise of atheist megachurches — a phrase that’s been used before — that it’s worth taking a second to step back and discuss what that actually means.

Flaccus wrote:

Nearly three dozen gatherings dubbed “atheist mega-churches” by supporters and detractors have sprung up around the U.S. and Australia — with more to come — after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke.

According to Christianity Today, a megachurch is defined as “a church with an average weekly attendance of 2,000 or greater.”

I know of only one atheist gathering in the past decade that’s been attended by that many people: The Reason Rally. Everything else pales in comparison.

My view from last week’s inaugural assembly in Chicago. Several dozen people do not a megachurch make.

What you have now are local atheist gatherings that bring together anywhere from a few dozen people to a few hundred people — many of them, I suspect, will be one-time events — and that’s enough for the media to dub them “megachurches”? It makes absolutely no sense.

There’s a simple reason they’re getting that label: It’s sexy. No one’s Googling the “Sunday Assembly,” which is the official name for these events. But “atheist church,” which I’ve used on this site, is just more clickable. People want to read articles about “atheist churches,” not “Sunday assemblies.” And when the media is saturated with articles about atheist churches, might as well move on to atheist megachurches!

But really, it’s not a fair comparison.

Most Christian megachurches have thousands of members each, large (paid) staffs, a budget that rakes in upwards of six-figures or more every week, and the ability to fly in guest speakers/pastors (and compensate them well). Many have bookstores, cafes, and nurseries.

Atheist assemblies (like the kind we’re talking about here) have dozens of members, no paid staff (except for the two overall organizers, who are currently trying to fundraise their own salaries), no pastors, no dogma you must adhere to, certainly no pastoral mansions and scandals, etc. They meet monthly (if that), not weekly. There aren’t multiple services to accommodate the masses. You just sing a few songs, listen to people talk about how amazing it is to be alive, and hopefully get inspired by that to live a better life and help your community.

The parallel to Christian megachurches just isn’t there.

Here’s the most important thing: The Sunday Assembly doesn’t even “preach atheism.” In fact, when I was asked to speak at last Friday’s inaugural event in Chicago, I was specifically told not to talk about atheism. That’s because these events aren’t about getting rid of your faith habit. They’re about celebrating life. That’s it. (Organizers in New York, who wanted to “preach atheism,” were unhappy that the Sunday Assembly shied away from that and ended up starting their own pro-atheism “Godless Revival.”) Hell, most of us who attend already know what we (don’t) believe. We don’t need constant reminders.

What’s worse is that even atheists are being taken in by the language, disparaging the assemblies for being too much like a “religion” — when they’re only using some of the ingredients we normally associate with faith and weeding out all the bad parts. Singing, gathering, and speaking, all in one place, isn’t some Christian-owned monopoly.

Look: I understand atheists not wanting to join one of these assemblies. What I don’t understand is the vitriol against those atheists who do, except that the critics see the word “church” used in conjunction with it and immediately cringe. Remember that the phrasing is nothing but a media construction. It has nothing to do with the events themselves. If you don’t believe me, go to one and see for yourself.

On a side note, in reaction to the Freedom From Religion Foundation asking people on Twitter what they thought of these atheist megachurches earlier today, the Sunday Assembly politely responded:


And that’s really the crux of it. It’s not a church. But damn, is it resonating with people.

The media has no good way of describing these gatherings of people who don’t believe in God but want to celebrate life, so “church” and “megachurch” it is.

Don’t be fooled by it. That doesn’t make any of this a “religion” or a “church.” And if you want nothing to do with it, that’s perfectly fine. You won’t be condemned nor will you be any less of an atheist.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • baal

    “shied away from that and ended up starting their own”
    The new Sunday Assembly meeting of 2013 or the new Sunday Assembly of 2035?

    • Brian Westley

      “Die, heretic scum!”, and I pushed him off.

  • Conspirator

    I’ve always felt one of the benefits of being an atheist is being able to sit at home on Sunday watching football in my underpants.

    • FTP_LTR

      To paraphrase Groucho Marx… why do you have a football in your underpants?

      • Lando

        You really don’t want to know that answer…

      • Conspirator

        I think that joke only works where the structure of the sentence is more ambiguous. Tends to happen more with the preposition “with”. Also, if I rearranged the words too much then the reference I was making to Steve Martin’s “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” would have been lost, although it was obviously missed by some.

        • FTP_LTR

          I think the original Marx joke was broadly “I shot an elephant in my pajamas; how he got into my pajamas I’ll never know”. :-)

        • fenaray

          I totally got it! I LOVE Steve Martin!

      • Paula M Marshall

        He implied he has the whole team playing in there. They must be baggy.

        • Drew M.

          Yup, that’s how I read it.

    • Anne Hutchings

      If this is not for you, you can still sit at home and watch football…in your under pants. No one will try to drag you to Sunday Assembly.

  • A3Kr0n

    Yes yes, I understand all of that, but what about beer?

    • invivoMark

      That’s what I brew at home instead of going to church on Sundays!

  • Keyra

    Umm, just about any modern church celebrates life, but giving credit where it’s due

    • Artor

      Most Xian churches I know celebrate death more than life. What’s your purpose here on Earth? Passing time until you die & go to heaven. What’s the greatest thing your god did for you? Sent his son to be tortured to death. What do you do with people who believe something different from you? Kill! KILL! KIILLL!!!

      • islandbrewer

        What do you do with people who believe something different from you? Kill! KILL! KIILLL!!!

        “And I started jumpin’ up and down yelling, “KILL, KILL,” and he started jumpin’ up and down with me, and we was both jumping up and down yelling, “KILL! KILL!” And the sergeant came over, pinned a medal on me, sent me down the hall, said, ‘You’re our boy!’”

        • Artor

          Oh good. I wasn’t sure if I typed that in the right voice. It looks like it came through loud & clear. :)

        • FTP_LTR

          Good grief. Two Arlo Guthrie references in one day on the same blog. I like this place.

    • cary_w

      Really? Every church I’ve been to in the last 30 years it’s been all about death and controlling lives, rather than celebrating life. Too depressing for me, that’s why I don’t go often.

    • baal

      It’s ‘life’ Jim, but not as we know it.

    • closetatheist

      Count how many times the average church mentions “blood” or “death” during their worship songs alone…The imagery they create is really terrifying once you become aware of it. Just this Sunday I sat through four worship songs that were entirely about torture or death. The best one vividly described a “fountain of blood” pouring out of the arms of “Immanuel’s veins” onto pools of people who dunked themselves in it. Please imagine that for me. Would any church show a video of that to their congregation? Would the Pastor tell the church to go see a movie where Pagans did this in the blood of their own gods?

      A lot of Christians are so detached from Christian doctrine, but that doesn’t change the fact that they worship a god who demands their death! That’s why Jesus had to DIE, because death is the only thing that satisfies Yahweh…On Sundays they pass out coloring sheets to my son showing Noah shutting people out of the ark and condemning them to death. They praise the Israelites for slaughtering the wives, children, and animals of their enemies. They read out loud the Psalms that David wrote where he wishes he could bash in the babies head’s of the Babylonians…AND THEY LOVE THESE STORIES. I think its because they don’t take the time to look at them from the perspective of the victims of the tales. But I’m sure you’re capable of seeing how death is lauded by Christians. Even martyrdom is central to how Christianity developed and currently views itself.

      • Kesia

        You are right about all the blood talking in christian services. However, blood, as the Son’s blood in the Book, if well studied, meant LIFE, giving life, sacrifice, paying a debt. This is what our logical thinking can’t grasp. If you prefer, you can think as a mortgage that one couldn’t pay, was about to loose everything and be on the streets and somebody (Son) payed it in full and now you have your place. It is LIFE! Sorry for the way church and religion pushes people away from life in the Son.

        • islandbrewer

          If you prefer, you can think as a mortgage that one couldn’t pay, was about to loose everything and be on the streets and somebody (Son) payed it in full and now you have your place.

          If that’s the analogy you want, it sounds like the bank is guilty of predatory lending practices:

          Bank of God: “You owe me an eternity in torture and torment!”

          Me:”What? Why?”

          God:”You broke the rules that I made up!”

          Me:”WTF?How was I supposed to know that?”

          God:”It’s all here in this poorly worded book of stories from the bronze age translated from ancient hebrew and Koine greek. Unless you’re Catholic, in which case it went through a translation through Old Egyptian.”

          Me:”Um…”

          God:” … and a lot of people disagree about the interpretation, too, I should add …”

          Me:”So, why again do I have to?”

          God”Because you lied! You lie once! You burn in hell! HELL, SINNER!!!!!”

          Me:”That seems a little disproportionate. Do you have a therapist? Because I’m detecting some anger issues …”

          God:”BURN! IN HELL! FOREVER!”

          Me:”Um… is that? Really?”

          God:”Someone has to DIE! Wait, no, I’m calm. Sorry – that was a little intense, there.

          I have an idea. Hey, Jesus? C’mere a sec.”

          Jesus:”Yeah? What…”

          God:”DIE! DIE! Someone has to DIE!”

          Me:”What the fuck?! Why would you do that, you fucking psychopath?!”

          God:”Because I love you! :D

          • Kesia

            Thank you for your reply. There will be Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons, Atheists, and so on in eternal separation from Life. It is NOT about churches or the tag you think you fit better. By the way, separation from Life didn’t come just as a result of a lie. Go deeper. Peace.

        • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

          Kesia, I think your analogy is just a little bit flawed. This particular “house” (original sin) was forced upon the mortgagees without their knowledge and consent, at an infinite price, amortization period and interest rate (an eternity in Hell), and the mortgage-holder (the god of the Bible) will only accept payment in full, in blood. I don’t want to live in a neighbourhood like that.

          • Kesia

            Astreja, thank you for your reply. Faith is crazy and abstract. Yes, we were forced upon the mortgages, as we were not asked whether or not we wanted to be born, to be of a specific nationality, and so many other “prices” that we were imposed to. The point is not about the rules, they ARE here. Ah, the “house” is not sin, the “house” is my life. Peace out.

            • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

              I think it’s all imaginary, Kesia. I do not believe in your god, nor do I believe in life after death, nor do I believe in “the rules.”

              And your “house” crumbles upon physical death, no matter how deeply and sincerely you believe in “the Son.” There is simply no valid evidence for eternal life.

        • closetatheist

          Ok, ok. I see that you’re firmly holding to the belief that blood must atone for sins – sometimes even human blood – which was a common and horrific practice during the bronze age. This makes Yahweh just like many other made-up gods and you just like many other Pagan people… BUT you have yet to address the ways in which the Bible and modern Christians revel in the stories that involve spilling the blood of almost any other person on the planet, including their enemies, their enemies innocent babies, their fellow believers with whom they may have a small doctrinal dispute (Israelites and modern Christians have done this) the entire planet’s worth of humans during the flood (whom Yahweh had never bothered to personally warn, so what, right?) and then the eternal torture of people who may have done good, cared for orphans and widows, was always honest and never stole, but just didn’t hear the name of Jesus. How is it fair to spill their blood? what kind of god would refuse to warn, or protect something that he loved and had personally placed in peril?

        • DavidMHart

          We didn’t choose to be alive. We especially didn’t choose to be alive in a form so defective that a supremely loving being would see fit to condemn us to eternal torture (a fate far worse than that visited on other sentient animals, who, at the end of their lives, are allowed to pass into a state of peaceful non-existence according to most flavours of Christianity I’m aware of).

          Before we became alive, there was no ‘we’ to do any choosing. Therefore we did not voluntarily incur the ‘debt’ in your metaphor. What you are talking about is not a debt; it is extortion.

  • Ray

    If attendance is the criteria then The Rolling Stones are a religion. Hmmmmmm

  • Jason Hinchliffe

    There’s no comparison yet, but wait until some of them get big enough and the dogma’s start to evolve. It should be interesting. I wonder how long until we have a scandal about an atheist church “pastor” riding around in a luxury car while his constituents starve.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      LOL. Without the threats of hellfire and damnation, I don’t know how effective it will be to try to impose dogma on anyone. As for leaders being paid well, if that’s a problem for you, then you would stop donating money. As long as it’s not my money they are spending, I don’t know why it’s any of my business.

      • Jason Hinchliffe

        I said “evolve” not “impose”. The group dynamic will begin to create internal values. Those internal values will grow and evolve into a set of beliefs. Those beliefs will then become the foundation of the “Church”. That is not to say the dogma will be negative. What evolves may be mostly positive. However, whenever you get a group of people who all identify by a core set of of values, you run the risk of elitism and exclusivity.

  • http://thewritepractice.com/ John Fisher

    Glad to see many others in the non-theist community don’t like the word “church” any more than I do! For exactly the reasons Jason Hinchliffe outlines in his post below.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw/ m6wg4bxw

    Commandment 1: Thou shalt not speak of atheism during Sunday Assembly

    (joking)

    • cary_w

      And of course the second rule is: you DO NOT talk about atheism!

      You could really have a lot of fun with these Sunday Assemblies!

    • Anymouse

      Just live it and be a good example to others.

  • Carrie

    If there was one thing that was difficult to do without once I left the faith, it was the loss of community. I am tickled pink that this deficiency is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

  • Ashley Nasello

    Once again, the media sensationalizes something that does not need it. I really wish they’d get a moral compass…

    • Highlander

      A moral compass doesn’t drive ad revenue. When the advertising industry gets a moral compass then maybe the media will too. Let’s speculate on when an industry built on selling products that don’t do what they are supposed to, to people who don’t NEED them, for prices higher than they are worth will find a moral compass.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    I went to the Sunday Assembly at Harvard University a week ago. There were approximately 80 people there, and most had a really good time. My biggest concern were the musical choices for the singalongs (Eye of the Tiger,etc.). It struck me as a good structure for local godless communities for people who want that type of thing.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      An acquaintance went to the Assembly in LA yesterday. She tweeted something that indicated they had music. I was wondering what kind of music is appropriate for such an event. Thanks for reminding me.

      • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

        I was getting out of my car for the event whenmy friend called to warn me that there was singing involved.

    • http://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q Kevin_Of_Bangor

      How does a sing along to Eye of the Tiger even start?

      • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

        Probably with a couple of guys doing the ” DUNT dunt dunt DUNT” power chords on air guitar.

      • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

        This is what happened. Sanderson got all of us standing and started clapping his hands to get everyone moving. I will say that he is a very energetic fellow and that his face gets this shade of bright “I think he’s going to have a stroke” red. The power chords start and the lyrics were on two rather large screens. After that I blacked out :)

  • Gary J Parker

    things
    to do on a Sunday am: Make a cracking Full English fry up. ride my
    classic bike on a quiet road somewhere really fast. Shag the missus.
    Sleep in. Look at the ceiling, roll over and get even more comfortable.
    watch Sunday footie. laugh at people who want to spend three frikkin’
    hours in a stuffy room with a bunch of humans doing things that make
    them look ridiculous. There, that’ll do just fine.

    • Monaka der Hund

      Sleep in, ride the bike, …. I guess you have no children?

      • Gary J Parker

        they’re grown up ;-)

        • http://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q Kevin_Of_Bangor

          Don’t lie. You ate them :)

  • AndyTK

    My problem with the Sunday Assemblies is probably the opposite of a majority of Atheists – I want it to be more like religion not less. Atheism has done a great job of getting the non-conformers, skeptics and free thinkers and this is wonderful. However to broaden our base we need to broaden our appeal beyond that niche group. We need people that want to be part of a community IRL, not because they are necessarily better or worse than those that do not but because if we are going to truly separate church from state and more importantly church from policy considerations then we need more people to believe strongly in Atheism. Having an alternative to Unitarian Universalist Churches that actually teach Atheism (along with logic, reason, and other topics) to both children and adults while providing an environment familiar to those that grew up within a religious community would allow us to grow our numbers significantly while providing a power base from which to launch Atheist candidates into local, then state and then national politics. We are losing people that have lost their faith to religious communities simply because there isn’t an appealing alternative. We need organizations that can help prevent people from backsliding into religion simply because they missed socializing with people on Sunday mornings while singing songs. I know a lot of people that are not particularly religious that starting going to church again because they had kids and felt that their kids needed an education in morals and the only people offering that kind of education was the local church. Imagine if there was an alternative that taught morals along with logical fallacies to children and was marketed to parents as a way to give their kids a leg up on math and science while teaching a system of morals that didn’t include hate and fear. We could capture both the parents and the kids and prevent them from back sliding into religion. How great would that be? You don’t have to be a member, it’s not like Atheist churches (I prefer communities) will be like the Catholic Church and declare you a non-member if you don’t come and pay dues. Sit in your sweatpants and watch football on Sunday morning, but don’t call people like me that want an IRL community bad things just because we want to do something else.

  • Lee Moore

    Lee here from the Godless Revival.
    We didnt split because we wanted to preach Atheism, thats just silly. We split because we did not agree with the idea that the word Atheism was negative and should be avoided at all costs. We just could not support an event that would further push the idea that Atheism is a taboo subject and at the same time raise money so some overseas stand up comics can perpetuate this bad idea.

    Atheist Assemblies are a great idea and their time has come, but ones that wish to alienate those of us who are “out and proud” should be avoided.

    You can celebrate life and your godlessness too.

    • Lee Moore

      Also we split because we wanted our events to be in a bar. If we are going to drag anyone away from their sunday routine the least we can do is make sure you have plenty to drink.

      • Paula M Marshall

        The alcoholic church

      • Emily Elise

        I attended the Chicago Sunday Assembly Hemant spoke at. It was in a wine shop. ;)

      • http://twitter.com/#!/tomkelley Tom

        Your post made me glad you split. To each his own. Sunday Assembly is to Episcopalians as Godless Revival is to Baptist.

    • Marshall Benton

      Wow! The atheist church just got started and already the denominational schisms begin.

  • Craig

    Before we bash the hell out of this very new movement, I think freethinkers (myself included) should peacefully allow any of our secular human brothers and sisters the freedom to gather without harassment from anyone. Especially from those of us that actually agree that there is no god (or probably go god). This includes on-line bashing.

  • Rebecka Toney

    I don’t like churches mega or mini or micro …and dammit “MEDIA” is a PLURAL WORD The media ARE, the media HAVE, the media WERE….

    Atheists can gather or not gather, but they don’t worship. And Sunday Assembly … ick, To me an assembly is for high school or… church.

    • Anymouse

      Even a medium could have foretold that was coming.

  • newavocation

    Wait till they get their ‘churches’ a little more organized and the fights about the bylaws begins and the politics and infighting of all the little groups. Then they will be an official religious organization.

  • Tom Wierman

    Love the idea of hanging out with fellow non believers…not sure I’d want call it a church though…that word just invokes “religion”…which we keep telling the christians that we are not. ..btw..what songs are sung?… I’ve never in my life had the urge to start belting out a song when in a room with a bunch of friends or strangers.

    • fenaray

      Candy Man?

      • Tom Wierman

        Ha!…That could work.

  • Paula M Marshall

    “You just sing a few songs, listen to people talk about how amazing it is
    to be alive, and hopefully get inspired by that to live a better life
    and help your community.” What kind of songs? I don’t see the point of an atheist “gathering” on Sunday.

    • http://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Well you can’t talk about being an atheist so I doubt they will like it being called an atheist gathering.

      • FTP_LTR

        And that’s the bit that puzzles me slightly.

        The thing that the group have in common is something they don’t talk about.

        I actively do things to help the community, in a range of issue-focussed areas, but I don’t feel the need to come together and hear about living a better life in generalised ways. Maybe it’s because in my part of the world there are enough secular volunteer organisations that there is no pressure to ‘belong’ to a greater community in order to participate – you can just join the group for the specific activity or cause.

        I get the feeling that if I were inclined to be theist I’d have a personal relationship with He/She/It/Them/Pasta. Maybe I’m just an antisocial introvert? :-)

        • Ella Warnock

          Me too. Nice to meet ya. No, I don’t need to shake your hand or go have a coffee. I’ll just text you. ;^)

        • Stacey R.

          Not everyone in the group is an atheist, and you don’t have to be to join — that’s exactly the point the founders are trying to make. The Sunday Assembly is not about what God you do or don’t believe in, or what religion you subscribe or don’t subscribe to. It’s a secular community organization with humanist values that happens to present it in a “church-like” setting.

        • tru olson

          Yeah, that’s a long conversation …
          “I don’t believe in deities.”
          “Yeah, me neither.”
          “Ok, great. See you next Sunday.”

  • kevin

    i do not push any form of my faith in a triune god,but i find it interesting that thier is so much proof of god existence and order specifically in the field of physics and medical field.a eye specialist filled me in on that one and he is not a christian.i think atheist should examine that word a meaning no thiest meaning god you just exept it by faith dont you.christ died and rose from the dead so we could know and have a relationship with him.what is wrong with this.

    • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

      Kevin: “christ died and rose from the dead so we could know and have a relationship with him.what is wrong with this.”

      Uh… A dead guy coming back from the grave and wanting a relationship sounds fractally wrong to Me.

    • Just Me

      I’m a doctor, and the more I study the body and biology, the LESS proof of god I see and the more atheist I become. Also, most advanced physicists are atheists or agnostics. Obviously, you know nothing of medicine or physics. If you did, you would question religion as well.

    • Ron

      • Lando

        I read “is a troll” – and completely agreed

    • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw/ m6wg4bxw

      christ died and rose from the dead so we could know and have a relationship with him.

      This! Thank you! This is how I begin all of my relationships!

      • Lando

        I’m so sorry I buried you in that wheat field. I couldn’t have the cops asking questions about another corpse in my apartment.
        Hit me u on grinder, we’ll party this weekend.

    • John

      One doctor ostensibly thinks there is proof of god in medicine. I guess you didn’t take statistics either.

  • http://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q Kevin_Of_Bangor

    And this is the kind of shit theist come up with because the word church is used.

    FINALLY! They admit atheism IS a “religion!” Now what say you? Fools! But hey, YOU and YOU alone choose where you spend eternity—so only you will answer on judgment day for your own foolish decisions! Have a nice trip!

    But now that atheists have churches can we start sueing them to get their filthy religion out of our schools?

    Isn’t it interesting to see that those who do not have God, still feel the need to fill that void?
    There is no human on the face of this earth who can thrive without unconditional love, he made us that way.

    If this was only true It won’t be long before they will be drunk, and having a mass orgy at these meetings. Without God the flesh WILL take over…..

    A Religion committed to not believing in Religion. Only in America.

    • Andreas Kyriacou

      No, also in the UK. Because of a bloke promoting his own book, and a bunch of people wanting to attend sing-alongs.

  • DougI

    Atheist meetups aren’t anything new, don’t know why the media is so obsessed with it and why some Atheists are so furious about it. If you want to be bitterman and stay home nobody is forcing you to go so relax.

  • Madison Blane

    The community and emotional support that my church provided kept me in church long after I quit believing in the Bible or its God.
    I lived too long with cognitive dissonance because I’d never heard rational, simple, coherent arguments and explanations for Atheism. I’d never heard of logical fallacies. I’d never been given ANY viewpoint except the Church’s.
    It took me 10 years to realize that I was, in fact, an Atheist, because I’d never interacted with Atheists (at least not to my knowledge). I’d never even heard the word in a positive context.
    Every religion has one (or several) easily available experts, all who are ready and willing to answer questions, many who actively work to reach out to the man on the street. They have temples, houses of worship, churches, mosques, places where anyone can hear their teachings and arguments for their way of thinking. We have no place that people can go, no accessible experts that people can ask in person, no way (other than the internet or paid conventions) where people can hear the rational arguments for NOT believing. This makes it harder for people to transition and easier to cling to religion – even when they don’t believe anymore.
    I think we are missing things, as Atheists. Things like: community activism, real-life support for each other, a place where we can meet and discuss common goals and work together to become a POSITIVE force in our community – to be something other than a group of ‘nots’ (I know that Atheist means a lack of belief but we could be so much more than a group of opposers), a place to prepare our children to think scientifically and rationally, to teach them about debate and foster their curiosity, we need a place that we can discuss the common religious arguments and issues that we are confronted with, a place where we can build each other up and share what we know and leave feeling better than when we came.
    Now, you can call this ‘Sunday Meeting’, or ‘Atheist Church’, or ‘Tiddleywinks’, I really don’t care! The point is, as human beings, we need each other. Atheists coming together have my whole-hearted support!! We need the support of like-minded individuals. Sometimes on-line communities, although they are great, just aren’t enough. We need people who can be there for us in real life. We need contact – handshakes, hugs, a smile – with people close-by who care what happens to us, who will stop by and check in, who will cook or babysit, or let us cry on their shoulder when grandma dies or our husband has cancer or we lost our job or the sh!t hits the fan, or life occurs! We need to be able to feel like our life matters and that we are making a difference in this world.
    And, I believe, as more Atheists are ‘out’, as more of these meetings happen, as more of these connections are made, and as more supportive Atheist communities are formed, people will not feel as scared about leaving their churches because they will not feel like they are committing themselves to a life of loneliness and ostracization. They will see that they can still have community support. They will realize that they can still do good and be moral and make a difference in this world without a church. And maybe, one day, Atheists will do enough through social activism that it won’t be a word of slander, and “Good without God” will be the first thing people think instead.

    • sailor50

      That’s it! I was raised in a household where religion was not mentioned, neither good or bad, but I knew I was missing some great events like campouts and potlucks, etc. So, yes, we need the sense of community that today’s world does not give us in our neighborhoods. If I lived near Mesa, Az., I would be attending the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix at their newish quarters to enjoy some of the events and, as the churchy say, “fellowship”.

  • SeekerLancer

    Had to listen to my girlfriend’s grandparents read about the “atheist megachurches” in the paper this morning and listen to them go on about us being ignorant. I could only roll my eyes. I don’t like to argue with them about this kind of thing, they’re in their 90′s.

    The article is the first time I heard anyone refer to the Sunday Assembly as “the atheist megachurch” though it made it sound like everyone was calling it that.

  • Ernie Mink

    And this makes sense how? You want to enjoy life without creation? Hmmm. let me know how that turns out for you.

    • fenaray

      So far so good.

  • trog69

    I guess I’m a bad atheist, because I do see the assembly of people each week as a good thing, if their mission is the betterment of their neighbors and the environs they live in. What better way is there to get people together to discuss how issues should be resolved? I’d join one myself, were I not such a dedicated hermit, due to severe depression.

  • Glenn Weare

    Just a note on one small point – both the Global Atheist Conventions in Melbourne in 2010 and 2012 had more than 2000 people in attendance. As I recall, the first had 2500 and the second one had 3500. Both were great events!

    I appreciate the reminder that atheists are a VERY diverse bunch (good thing) and what suits one may not suit another.

  • Ian Dodd

    As one of the organizers of that LA event that attracted “only” 400 attendees, I appreciate your critique of the AP’s going after juicy spin rather than the substance. We aren’t trying to become a “megachurch” But we live in a metropolitan area of nearly 13 million people. Using the accepted 1 in 5 as religiously unaffiliated figure (all kids are born atheists, so the number is higher in the under 3 year old component), that’s potentially 2.5 million nonbelievers. Would saying 90% of all atheists are uninterested in what we are trying to do be a charitable estimate? Still, out of 250,000, we’re probably never going to draw 2,000, so I think we miss out on the megachurch status no matter what. We know we’ll never reach the 90% who have no interest in this type of community. We just want to build a robust, engaged organization for those who do. We’re trying to build an organization of “positive atheism”, not only for atheists who might join, but also the broader community to dispel the stereotypes and misconceptions that we can’t be “good without god.”

    • Artor

      Good job & I wish you well. I don’t live anywhere near there, so I’m not part of your potential clientele, but I suspect that the more you can squelch any comparison to “church,” the better you’ll do.

  • David

    They call it a “church” because it is the only frame of reference that they understand.

    • Kerfluffle

      Here’s our chance to coin or hijack terminology!

      Potlatch?

      Hoedown?

      Keg Party?

  • Birdie1986

    I guess I understand that atheists who are used to going to church and miss all that find some comfort and community in these assemblies, so more power to them. Unfortunately, I think you can’t escape the comparison to church, given the timing, singing, inspirational speeches, etc.
    Personally, I prefer to celebrate life by living it. I sing all the time. My son and the everyday interactions I have with family and friends, and even, sometimes, strangers, inspire me to live a better life. I get together with people of like minds to talk about how we can make the world a better place, or to work on a specific project or just to do something that we are mutually interested in. We do that at mutually convenient times, rather than setting up a specific time to do it. To me, the whole Sunday Assembly thing seems too specifically contrived to replace a church service that I never really was interested in going to before.
    One of the great things, to me, about being an atheist is not having a gathering to go to on Sunday mornings, other than the one my family has in our pajamas with coffee, and, sometimes, bacon.
    I guess I’m just not a joiner.

  • ShoeUnited

    Every month I say it, and I will continue to say it.
    What advantage is shining the old shackles that couldn’t be accomplished with an afternoon picnic with the radio playing?

    • Zachary_Bos

      What advantage to eating a slice of pizza, when a sandiwch will do?

      What advantage to joining a local soccer league, rather than a darts club?

      What advantage to backpacking through Spain, as against taking a cruise off the Alaskan coast?

      * * *

      Different strokes for different folks, friend. No one associated with Sunday Assembly is claiming that the only appropriate way for nonreligious people to spend their effort is through participation in a godless congregation.

  • Jacob Peters

    Of course, Atheist Sunday Assemblies shy away from preaching atheism. Denial of the existence of God is a negative, off-putting message. There is nothing positive and uplifting in that, unlike the Christian message that Jesus Christ died for the sins of His People.

    • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

      Jacob, an exhortation to let an innocent man die in one’s place is not in the least bit “positive and uplifting.”

  • detroit58

    Sounds like Unitarian Universalists should do a better job of promoting what they offer to capture this demographic.

  • Christian Schmemann

    Mr. Mehta, I agree with you that we can’t properly call the Sunday Assembly a Church, as Church is a fundamentally Christian thing, and their numbers aren’t large enough to count as a mega-church. I even agree with Mr Mehta’s assertion that, largely being sporadic assemblies the Sunday Assemblies can’t even be considered an established community. I certain concede Mr Mehta’s points about dogma versus non-dogma.

    There are only two difference between Mars Hill “Church” in Seattle, WA and the small Dove World Outreach Center in Florida ; one is size, and the other is that Dove Center has only the whack-job Terry Jones while Mark Driscoll has a large well-compensated staff at Mars Hill, but those two “Churches” have everything else in common. They both have rancid architecture and no iconography; Liturgy does not exist; people dance and clap their hands to shamelessly raucous music like at a decadent rock, country or hip-hop concert. One can easily find Fundie heathen worship in coffee house or bistro environs.

    The Sunday Assemblies’ non-worship pretty much operates in the same manner. In many ways the epitaph “atheist mega-church” is pointing out that the non-worship of the Sunday Assemblies is very similar to the heathen worship of the heretic Fundie Protestant Churches. In regards to what I had written, I was actually pointing out that the heathen Fundie worship is not legitimate Christian worship and I was dumping the Fundie Protestants, not the Sunday Assembly attendees. I find a slight irony that Mr. Mehta showed a Chicago Sunday Assembly in a similar type of bistro environment that one can easily observe for Fundie heathen worship. I submit that, though probably undeserved, the cultural similarities between Fundie “Churches” and the Sunday Assemblies is where the epitaph of “atheist mega-church” comes from.

  • ufo42

    “Atheist Church” makes as much sense as “Non-stamp-collecting club”. Sunday Assembly it is. The simple slogans “Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More” seem to be a pretty good summary of what they are about. Anything which diverts people and money away from the authoritarian death cults of the three major Abrahamic religions is A Good Thing. If the press want to call it a church, that’s not on the Assemblies.