You might have seen some of the media coverage of so-called “atheist churches.”
The concept started with two British comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. Jones told the AP, “If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”
The only problem for Jones was, “at the heart of it, it’s something I don’t believe in.”
And so “Sunday Assembly” was born: a “church” where men and women gather together to sing, listen to an inspirational talk and reflect … all without any mention of God. After the twice-monthly gatherings in London met some success, the duo decided to expand the concept to other cities around the world. They started a “crowdfunding” campaign to finance their efforts.
The articles would have you believe the movement is taking off.
But can you have church without God, and is atheism really on the rise?
Let’s take a closer look.
1. Atheism isn’t experiencing an explosive boom.
Some of the blogs and articles referencing Sunday Assembly have made the mistake of equating “no religious affiliation” to “atheism.” The reality is many of the people classified as “nones” maintain a belief in God, have regular times of prayer and have a belief in heaven and hell. They don’t want to be associated with the Church, but they do consider themselves spiritual.
2. The Church is not dying.
That some atheists or “nones” are gathering in their version of church doesn’t mean Christianity is in any danger of dying off.
I recently blogged about the false narrative that the Evangelical Church is on an irreversible downward trajectory (you can read that post here). The bottom line is this: comfortable, cultural Christianity is decreasing, but the number of “Convictional Christians” has remained steady throughout the years.
3. It’s not church without God.
Historically, “church” is not simply a place to sing, meet people and reflect on becoming a better person. Church is much more than a social gathering of well-intentioned folks. According to orthodox Christianity, those of the Christian Church are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Peter 2:9).
Many things can attempt to take the place of what happens when Christ-followers meet, but nothing can match it. Those who reject the concept of God might accept there are benefits to community and introspection, but unless they acknowledge the true problem of sin and recognize their need for a Savior, their “solution” remains empty.
Perhaps that’s why the crowdfunding effort to internationally expand the Sunday Assembly only reached a tiny fraction of its goal.
In short, we know nothing can replace a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. People may attempt to meet their need to worship by creating false replications, but those efforts will ultimately be unsatisfying.
G.K. Chesterton’s oft-quoted reflection comes to mind that when man ceases to worship God he does not worship nothing but worships everything.