Where do you go for connection when you don't believe? Looking to London might offer us a strange vision of things to come.
Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones, two British comedians, recently started an atheist "church" in London. "If church is going down in terms of attendance, how can we keep hold of these rituals that are part of our lives?" Evans asks. The pair decided to start something.
The Sunday Assembly is a "friendly community gathering for like-minded people" that meets once a month in a deconsecrated church. While Evans and Jones expected "about 20 people" for their opening Sunday, over 200 came. 300 came the next month.
What goes on in an average service? It varies, but looks a lot like the Christian churches around the corner—just without God. After welcomes and announcements, the congregation sings along to hits by Queen and Stevie Wonder with a live band, a message is brought by a guest speaker, and readings are shared.
The service is not intended to mock or lampoon traditional churches, Evans says. "The point isn't to put down other religions; it's to say, we don't have faith, but what do we have?"
It's a good question. What does a church have when God's not there anymore? Evans and Jones point to their central message. They want their congregation to "live better, help often, and wonder more."
It's a cultural curiosity now, but perhaps a portent of the future. The Sunday Assembly plans to stream their services on YouTube, and help set up similar gatherings around the world. Who knows? Is it beyond imagining atheist missionaries knocking on your door someday?
So what can ministry leaders learn from The Sunday Assembly?
• No matter their faith or lack thereof, people deeply long for communal gathering and connection.
• People want opportunities to connect with a purpose bigger than themselves. "Life," "help," and "wonder" are Christian values as well.
• Never underestimate the power of an old idea with a fresh expression and energetic execution.
Thoughts on other things that Christian leaders can learn from an atheist "church"? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
What Worship Language Are You Speaking?
We all know that there are often difficulties in balancing "worship" with "welcome." Richard Kentopp (musician-in-residence at Servant Church in Austin, Texas) offers his top suggestions on how to bring young or unchurched people into your worship service. Bottom line? If you want to be heard, it's all about language.
1. Identify what language you're speaking, both intentionally and unintentionally, and be aware of it.
2. Set your preferences aside. Encourage your congregation to think outside their preferences.
3. Make some changes. Risk your job. Be courageous. Be dynamic. The status quo isn't working.
Many churches "speak" James Taylor's style in their worship, Kentopp says. "Your primary weekly worship gathering is the main door to the community, and youth know Kanye West and Jay-Z more than they know James Taylor," Kentopp says. "This isn't a preference thing; it's a true linguistic barrier."
—United Methodist News Service, at umc.org. "Young People Seek Church Relevance."
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