Church Without God: Lessons from atheists “mega-churches”

I’ve been quietly following a rather strange movement happening around the world. A couple of years ago, two comedians thought it would be funny to start a “church” for atheists. It actually does sound funny—something I would have tried to write a short story about. It would have been satire, pointing out that many modern Christian churches are just practicing-atheists congregations. I never wrote that story, and it turns out I didn’t have to.

A couple of comedians tried it out as a joke, and to their surprise it turned into something rather serious. They invited like-minded people together to celebrate life through song and inspirational talks. People showed up in unprecedented numbers. Today, similar congregations are being launched all over the world, and the comedians are raising support for a website that will help launch even more campuses. You can read more about it here: “Atheist ‘mega-churches’ take root across US, world.”

If you watch their fundraising video, you can’t help but see the similarities between their values and strategies and those of many churches. They have vision. They are creating community. They want to see people become better: more loving, grace-filled, compassionate, and good. They want to make a positive difference in the world. They are exhibiting radical hospitality. They are embracing life and celebrating what it means to be alive. And let’s be honest, they are pretty funny. They are doing what many churches claim to be unique to church.

I feel like there should be a famous quote along the lines of “until you see the similarities you share with your enemies, you won’t see what makes you truly different.” Maybe there is, and I just haven’t heard of it. Either way, this is what’s been on my mind since looking into this new movement.

These atheist mega-churches have all of the benefits of church minus the belief in God. Whether it’s a passing phase or not, is irrelevant—it has forced us to think about what makes the contemporary church, with all of it’s strategies and promises, different from an atheist congregation. And are the differences enough?

Some of what they are doing should challenge us to think about our differences, so that we can lean towards the uniqueness we have in Christ. Other things should inspire us to practice our faith better as members of humanity, knowing that it is not unique at all to the Christian experience. Where should we follow and where should we lead? This is what I hope to explore in the following series of blog posts entitled “Church Without God.”

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