Recently a new movement has been getting a lot of publicity. Dubbed “atheist mega-churches” – the movement is being spearheaded by two British comedians. They call their meetings “sunday assemblies,” and they have all of the look and feel of a contemporary Christian church service, without one key factor: God.
Co-founders, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans have stated that their goal is to export the original concept, first started in London, around the world. They are currently on tour visiting 40 major cities; right now they are in the US, going from New York to Los Angeles, trying to establish Sunday Assemblies and propagating their message of humanist community gatherings.
At these Sunday assemblies, they do everything that your average Christian church does: they sing songs, they drink tea and coffee and chat in the lobby, they raise money for humanitarian causes – they take offerings, and they have a sermon each week! In an interview, Sanderson Jones answered the obvious question of what they preach on if they don’t have the Bible or another “sacred text”. His answer was astounding and something that should cause Christians everywhere some serious consideration. He said that ‘preaching without God isn’t hard at all – after all, most preaching in churches these days is basically tips and strategies about how to be a kinder, more balanced, well-rounded person; we embrace that whole heartedly, and we don’t believe we need God to do that.’
‘preaching without God isn’t hard at all – after all, most preaching in churches these days is basically tips and strategies about how to be a kinder, more balanced, well-rounded person; we embrace that whole heartedly, and we don’t believe we need God to do that.’
Here are my thoughts on these “atheist mega-churches”:
1. Mega-churches? Hardly.
Although they have been dubbed “mega-churches” by the media, if you look at the pictures, you will notice that if this were a Christian church, it would not be qualify as a “mega-church”. Furthermore, let’s not forget that the gatherings getting the most press are the ones in which Jones and Evans are present and leading the meetings – two British celebrities, who have been getting a lot of press attention lately for these Sunday Assemblies. This is a special event, not a church – not a committed community of people, and certainly not a mega-church. Even the original Sunday Assembly is not all that big. I understand that “mega-church” pops out on a page – but let’s make sure we’re not blowing this all out of proportion.
2. Novelty = Media Hype
“Atheist Mega-church” is a novelty of a phrase that grabs people’s attention. Perfect for the media. Is there much substance to it? Will we see this as a growing movement for years to come? I don’t think so. I don’t believe it is sustainable. In fact, if it hadn’t been started by two celebrities, I don’t think it would have ever gotten off the ground. I see this fizzling out in the weeks, months and years to come as media hype wears off and moves on to the next amusing story. The reason why “Christian music and movies” are never as good as the original is simply this: they are not original – they are trying to copy someone else’s idea and put a Christian twist on it. It is often second-rate as a result. This smacks of the same thing, only more so.
3. A Very Important Critique
The quote from Sanderson Jones above is a VERY important critique for Christians, and particularly church leaders. Because here’s the deal: ANYBODY can “do church”! And Sanderson is right – you don’t need God to just get together, drink some bad coffee, sing a few songs and hear an inspiring talk about 10 ways to have your best life now. YOU DON’T NEED GOD FOR THAT! He’s right!
ALL that we have as Christians is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we get away from that, then we have become nothing more than a community gathering – in which it doesn’t matter if God is there or not.
Recently I had someone come to our church, and they told me that they had been attending another church previously, but came to realize that the sermons that were being preached could have easily been speeches given at a high school graduation or by a politician. God’s name was mentioned, but if it hadn’t been, it wouldn’t have changed the substance of the message. In other words: it didn’t matter if God was there or not. They were giving tips and strategies for how to be a kinder, more-balanced, well-rounded person – and the fact is, that you don’t need God to do that.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Word of God are what we have as Christians. They are what we should major on, and never neglect in an effort to give practical advice. The Gospel is life-changing and transforming, and we must crank it up rather than water it down. Only then will people really be transformed.
What do you think of these atheist mega-churches and my estimation of them? Are they just a flash in the pan, or are they here to stay? And what does this mean for Christianity and society in general?