Atheist 'mega-churches' take root across world

Services include everything you'd find in traditional Sunday service — except God
Associated Press
Nov 11, 2013

It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Hundreds packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational sermon, a reading and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.

Dozens of gatherings dubbed "atheist mega-churches" by supporters and detractors are springing up around the U.S. 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.

On Sunday, the inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles attracted more than 400 attendees, all bound by their belief in non-belief. Similar gatherings in San Diego, Nashville, New York and other U.S. cities have drawn hundreds of atheists seeking the camaraderie of a congregation without religion or ritual.

The founders, British duo Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, are currently on a tongue-in-cheek "40 Dates, 40 Nights" tour around the U.S. and Australia to drum up donations and help launch dozens of Sunday Assemblies. They hope to raise more than $800,000 that will help atheists launch their pop-up congregations around the world.

They don't bash believers but want to find a new way to meet likeminded people, engage in the community and make their presence more visible in a landscape dominated by faith.

Jones got the first inkling for the idea while leaving a Christmas carol concert six years ago.

"There was so much about it that I loved, but it's a shame because at the heart of it, it's something I don't believe in," Jones said. "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 movement dovetails with new studies showing an increasing number of Americans are drifting from any religious affiliation.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a study last year that found 20 percent of Americans say they have no religious affiliation, an increase from 15 percent in the last five years. Pew researchers stressed, however, that the category also encompassed majorities of people who said they believed in God but had no ties with organized religion and people who consider themselves "spiritual" but not "religious."

Sunday Assembly — whose motto is Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More — taps into that universe of people who left their faith but now miss the community church provided, said Phil Zuckerman, a professor of secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont.

It also plays into a feeling among some atheists that they should make themselves more visible. For example, last December, an atheist in Santa Monica created an uproar — and triggered a lawsuit — when he set up a godless display amid Christian nativity scenes that were part of a beloved, decades-old tradition.

"In the U.S., there's a little bit of a feeling that if you're not religious, you're not patriotic. I think a lot of secular people say, 'Hey, wait a minute. We are charitable, we are good people, we're good parents and we are just as good citizens as you and we're going to start a church to prove it," said Zuckerman. "It's still a minority, but there's enough of them now."

That impulse, however, has raised the ire of those who have spent years pushing back against the idea that atheism itself is a religion.

"The idea that you're building an entire organization based on what you don't believe, to me, sounds like an offense against sensibility," said Michael Luciano, a self-described atheist who was raised Roman Catholic but left when he became disillusioned.

"There's something not OK with appropriating all of this religious language, imagery and ritual for atheism."

That sentiment didn't seem to detract from the excitement Sunday at the inaugural meeting in Los Angeles.

Hundreds of atheists and atheist-curious packed into a Hollywood auditorium for a boisterous service filled with live music, moments of reflection and an "inspirational talk, " and some stand-up comedy by Jones, the movement's co-founder.

During the service, attendees stomped their feet, clapped their hands and cheered as Jones and Evans led the group through rousing renditions of "Lean on Me," ''Here Comes the Sun" and other hits that took the place of gospel songs. Congregants dissolved into laughter at a get-to-know-you game that involved clapping and slapping the hands of the person next to them and applauded as members of the audience spoke about community service projects they had started in LA.

At the end, volunteers passed cardboard boxes for donations as attendees mingled over coffee and pastries and children played on the floor.

For atheist Elijah Senn, the morning was perfect.

"I think the image that we have put forward in a lot of ways has been a scary, mean, we want to tear down the walls, we want to do destructive things kind of image is what a lot of people have of us," he said. "I'm really excited to be able to come together and show that it's not about destruction. It's about making things and making things better."




Re: "philosophical twaddle"

You mean like your ridiculous faith and belief in a gluttonous, unsanitary, drunken party god like Jesus?

“Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” (JN: 2:10)

The guy musta been a scream at parties.


I love it!
Keep demonstrating your ignorance.

"You've been educated beyond your intelligence."



Re: "ignorance."

You mean like your “ignorance” with your ridiculous faith and belief in a gluttonous, unsanitary, drunken, party god like Jesus? :)

Do you figure that He and Mary Magdalene did the "dirty"?


LOL ! Keep it up ! I love it !

Keep showing everybody what a fool you are.

"You've been educated beyond your intelligence."



Only a fool would believe that the secrets of life and death were told over 2000 yrs. ago.

Enjoy your programming Cupcake.



But yet you quote the philosophical twaddle of Lucius Annaeus Seneca , a man who lived 2000 yrs ago.

"Obviously you know nothing of History."

You're such a laughable , ignorant , fool.


Actually, yes. I recently read that that the religious group showing the most growth over the last 10 years are " non-believers". The age group with the largest number of non-believers are those under age 28.


To not believe in God, does not mean a person doesn't have any moral code. I know quite a few people that are willing to call themselves Atheist and they are of much greater moral quality than many of the people I know that call themselves Christians.


RU: Thank you! You are SO correct. Many Christians behave poorly on occasion because they know they can get forgiveness later, by simply asking for it.

Peninsula Pundit

'It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church.'
You can't say that about a conventional church.
That's why it is so easy to make a 'mega-church' without God.
He's hardly there in the first place.
And the 'worship' is more the worship of 'self' than God.


Render unto Caesar what is Caeser's


Re: "He's hardly there in the first place."

"However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:" (Acts: 7:48)

Dr. Information

More anti Christ topics……No more Obamacare topics……yup SR is a trash rag of a paper.

Red Right88

Thank you SR for running this article. There are alot of people in this country that do not understand that freedom OF religion also includes freedom FROM religion.


Seems this may prove the very existence of what we say we don't believe. The implanted need to worship is so deep in us that we have do it even if we don't believe there is anything to worship. The need to worship points to God like hunger point to food.


"Sunday Assembly — whose motto is Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More"

Seems like a good motto to live by. There are many Agnostics and Atheists who may not believe in God but they live by the Golden Rule and also live by the 10 Commandments. These Agnostic people and Atheists will not cheat on their spouses or go to court and bear false witness against others. Empathy, honesty, integrity and helping others are some of their traits. There are many hypocrites within many religions. A good example are militant Muslims, Christians and Jews. Of course there are some Atheists who care nothing about others and have no tolerance for those who believe in God.
"The Jesus movement was a movement in Christianity"

Decades ago, I belonged to a small group of "Jesus Freaks" as some referred to us. I left the group because of the hypocrisy within the group. They tended to judge and criticize others yet they made excuses for themselves.


I have found too that many people are judgmental and critical and that if you don't believe as they do, you should be shunned or corrected (that you are wrong). People have been killed because of their religious convictions and to me that is hypocritical. How can you purport to know God or be a good Christian or whatever and be judgmental or violent? And the bible is not the word of God-it was written by men and its interpretations are still up for debate.


You resent being disagreed with?

You don't know God or the bible.


Re: "People have been killed because of their religious convictions"

Got to appreciate those "Jesus lovin'" Medieval Christians killing the heretics and Jews by the thousands.

Peninsula Pundit

In contrast, many on these boards and across this nation have little problem with things like 'turning the desert into glass' and 'let the Israelis take care of themselves'.
But let's not have an association with religion in accomplishing those goals.
In one sense, that is a very true statement. God shouldn't be associated with killing.
These folks have a problem if God is associated with killing heretics and jews, but it's OK when it's done in a secular manner?


Re: "the bible is not the word of God,"

Outside of the Bible there is no historical proof that Jesus even existed.

BTW: In Hinduism, the gods have taken on human form thousands of times. They're called avatars.

Sad that the Christians can only afford one.


Outside of the Bible there IS historical proof that Jesus existed.


Not “proof,” second hand and hearsay.

"The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and people say, ‘Look at him! He eats too much and drinks too much wine, and he is a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’" (MT: 11:19)

Reads like a gluttonous partying drunk. Nice god ya picked.


You look down on drinking. There's a difference--You're a drunk !


Re: "is there a problem with that?"

So you have no problem with your god being a gluttonous, partying drunk?


You look down on drinking. There's a difference--You're a drunk !


Christ's critics were hateful,envious , liars-- just like you.


Re: "liars"

So Jesus was lying about eating and drinking to excess as well as being friends to tax collectors and sinners?


"So Jesus was lying?"

.....????????? about what?


".....????????? about what?"

"The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and people say, ‘Look at him! He eats too much and drinks too much wine, and he is a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’" (MT: 11:19)

So your god didn't mean what He said? i.e. lie.