Un-church for the un-churched


scepticThere’s a little flurry of atheist ‘churches’ at the moment. Meetings of like-minded secularists who listen to some music, hear a talk, reaffirm their views, have a collection, and then afterwards have a cup of coffee and some home-made cake.

It’s very earnest (and therefore very funny), but they are deliberately trying to put into practice what they think: that religion has a number of good outcomes (morality, beauty and good works), and if we are ‘grown-up’ enough we can manage all those without having to invoke the idea of anything supernatural.

It is, as I say, very funny. And deeply ironic that according to today’s Times, one of them can arrange a secular harvest festival to collect food for the homeless, but they have to rely on local churches to distribute it.

But as I’ve thought about it, I’ve realise that they are missing not just one key element (God, obviously), but two – and they be missing it because we are not to hot on it either.

It’s obviously futile to do what we do without a living God – we have a weak, foolish, and unpersuasive message of a cross, and we rely totally on the Lord Jesus to win people for himself. We don’t replay the shared values of a metropolitan enlightened elite – we call people to die daily for the sake of a risen saviour.

But the other element these faux ‘churches’ are missing is fellowship. Love of neighbour, love of enemy, love of sister and brother. In these ‘churches’ I’d meet other educated, urban late twentieth century professionals who share the values of our day; in the gospel I meet a Chinese pastor imprisoned for his faith, Syrian Christians who have only their Lord for help, and a billion others from every place on the planet. They are not my like-minded friends. They are my sisters and brothers, closer than my family, in Christ.

As are the fifty people I meet with each Sunday at church. Not a club. Not friends. Not a mutually admiring metropolitan intelligentsia. Family, from the bottom of the heap.

But here’s the thing. I wonder if the ‘churches’ haven’t realised they need to copy that, because we’ve not made it that obvious. Church services are also places where you turn up, isten to some music, hear a talk, reaffirm our views, have a collection, and then afterwards have a cup of coffee and some home-made cake.

Please have a look at what they’re doing – and look hard in the mirror

The Sunday Assembly has a link here

Alain de Botton’s School of Life has a link here

And feel free to comment below:

2 comments on “Un-church for the un-churched”

  1. I have been part of churches where people regularly share the messy details of life out loud on a Sunday morning but also in churches where people are sharing the messy details of their lives on a daily basis without it being particularly visible on a Sunday morning. There are pros and cons to both, but as long as people are sharing each other’s lives that’s the main thing. Also, visiting a church and being part of a church family for the long haul are (and should be) different experiences. What you describe sounds more like the visitor’s eye view. Hopefully if people stuck around and talked to people they would see the fellowship more.

    1. Sounds like you’ve had a good experience. But there are churches where people go for years, and the only experience is what you call the ‘visitors’ one!

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