What Christian Parents Can Learn from Atheist Churches

What Christian Parents Can Learn from Atheist Churches

There’s a new church movement you may not have heard about, but it’s growing by leaps and bounds. It’s called the Sunday Assembly. It started less than two years ago in England and now has more than 60 congregations around the world. Twenty-five more congregations are expected to launch by early 2015. The Sunday Assembly is growing especially quickly in the United States, where congregations have formed in 17 cities.

At a Sunday Assembly, church members come together to sing songs, hear a speaker and reflect on their lives. Outside of church, they have small groups, book clubs, a choir, peer-to-peer support and a variety of opportunities to volunteer. Their motto is “Live better, help often and wonder more.”

So what’s unique about this rapidly growing church?

Most of the congregants don’t believe in God. It’s a church for atheists.


What is an Atheist Church?

The Sunday Assembly was started by two comedians named Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones who liked the idea of a church without God. Pippa is an ex-Christian who found she missed church elements like “community, volunteering, and music,” but didn’t miss God. Sanderson had noticed the joy at Christmas created by caroling and wondered if it was possible to harness those warm feelings and just celebrate the fact we’re alive.

When Evans and Jones launched the Sunday Assembly, they promoted it using the (appropriate) phrase “atheist church.” However, they now avoid the atheist description and promote the Sunday Assembly as a group “celebrating life.” A New York congregation actually broke off from the group earlier this year because they wanted to focus more on celebrating godlessness than celebrating life.

True to this rebranding effort, the “Frequently Asked Questions” page on the Sunday Assembly’s website attempts to distance the organization from a strict atheist association. In response to the question, “Is Sunday Assembly exclusively for atheists?” they say, “Absolutely not. We say in the Charter that we don’t do supernatural but we won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do. One of the unique things about Sunday Assembly is that it is radically inclusive–allowing us to celebrate life together, regardless of what we believe in.” They go on in other answers to discourage using their group as a vehicle for presenting atheist philosophy or for telling others that they’re wrong for what they believe.

Irony lurks below the surface of this shallow inclusiveness. The first item on their public charter says, “We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together.” Make no mistake: this isn’t just a secular gathering where no claims are being made about God one way or another. The Sunday Assembly is built on explicitly atheist assertions. And people are loving it.


A Very Important Lesson for Christian Parents

I’m fascinated by this rise of atheist churches, and I think there is a very important lesson Christian parents can take from it:

We have to make sure our kids are attracted to Jesus and not just the church.

Humans are built for relationships. We desire community; we desire to help others; we desire to live a “good” life and find meaning in what we do–all things that can be found in church. Christians believe that these desires are given to every person by God. That means church is a place that can fill a God-given need for our kids whether they believe in Him or not.

The risk is that they’ll mistake that partial fulfillment for the sum of everything they spiritually need.

Bart Campolo, son of well-known Christian pastor and speaker Tony Campolo, made the news last month because of his deconversion from Christianity. In an interview, he described how as a teenager he was drawn by the sense of community and “the common commitment to love people, promote justice, and transform the world.” He commented, “All the dogma and the death and resurrection of Jesus stuff was not the attraction.”

Church – not Jesus – was the attraction.

How can you know if your kids are attracted to Jesus or just the church? Look at their spiritual development outside of church:

  • Do they show an interest in reading and understanding the Bible, or just an interest in good values and community service?
  • Do they initiate conversations about faith and ask thoughtful questions?
  • Do they demonstrate a desire to discern what God wants for their life?
  • Do they pray? (If you don’t know, ask!)

There are certainly a lot of kids kicking and screaming all the way to church each week. That’s a whole other problem. But let’s be sure to not assume a happy church-goer is also a Jesus-lover. As the Sunday Assembly has shown us, a lot of people are happy to do church without God.

What kind of “relationship” do your kids have with your church? Have you ever considered if it’s a Jesus-centered relationship? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

27 thoughts on “What Christian Parents Can Learn from Atheist Churches”

  1. I’d heard of the atheist churches and was concerned and slightly amused, all wrapped up into one. But you raise a good lesson from this – we have to teach our kids to love Jesus. My oldest loves going to church, but it’s because she can run and play after service with her bestie while us grow ups visit. She loves her Bible class teacher something fierce.

    Now, she’s only 3, so it’s not like I’ve totally fallen down in the job – but I need to start Now! We are working on concepts of helping others (because Jesus would be happy) and what Heaven is. But it’s hard to be age appropriate and urgent at the same time!

  2. You have to at least appreciate their honesty. It reminds me of a story. A man went into a restaurant called “Church Of God Chicken” to buy lunch. He asked the waitress, “I’m curious, just how did you ever come up with the name of your restaurant?”

    The waitress replied, “Well years ago we were a church. To raise money for our new building we had a fundraiser potluck. That went so well that we began to have one every Sunday after the service. Everyone was very excited and we were bringing our favorite dishes and making a lot of money, which we used to buy a bigger kitchen so we could just prepare the meals at church. It wasn’t long before we grew and included a Saturday service, which eventually grew to include the potluck Monday through Friday. Eventually we stopped having any sermons at all and here we are today!”

  3. So, why do I feel like crying? I have instructed and raised my children with Christian values and encouraged belief in Christ. One of my sons continues with his Christian beliefs, the other seems to have fallen away after marring an atheist, although I’m not sure exactly what his belief is, he is an adult. I can’t even comprehend what my life would be if it were not Christ centered. I love God and don’t understand how people can not feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is as simple as many are called, but few are chosen. I enjoy fellowship with other Christians, however, I would much rather be a Christian that doesn’t attend a formal church service or have an affiliation with a congregation, that an Atheist that attends church. In the meantime, I continue to pray for my family!

    1. I feel for you as I also have 3 sons. 2 follow Christ, the middle child I’m not so sure about. However, when they were growing up, I gave them over to God and believed God when He said teach them while they r young & they will return. Also, it is said As for me & my household we will serve the Lord! Hold out your hands in prayer for ur children, God will bring them home. God Bless you.

  4. This challenges me to ask (as I have been having on my heart) whether ‘I’ love Jesus. Do ‘I’ Know and Hear HIS VOICE?

    I tend to try so hard, and forget that it is His work in me that even draws me to Him. That is so hard for me! I often try to find him just to avoid hell, and that is so wrong and selfish of me! I want to instead know the love of God that transforms my heart, soul and mind!

    I am having a trying morning. And even today struggle with “seeking God while I can find Him.” Instead I get discouraged and want to crawl into a little ball and hide. Because, some days, it is so hard to find Him, to know where He is.
    I think even in this we have to be honest about how easy it is to want those things like community, the good things God made, without having to do the hard disciplined work of seeking him and Trusting Him.

    And lastly, it is SO SO sad and disheartening to me that as we exponentially multiply on this earth, the sheer number of our population, is the time when the number who are turning away from God is at its greatest and these two things seem to go hand in hand. Why is that? Why does hell have to get SO big and feel like the number that will be in heaven, SO small?? This hurts my heart, and I think leads many to say God is not good and to walk away.


    1. I understand your struggle to desperately seek after God. It is not as easy as I used to believe it would be. Some days it takes every ounce of strength to just cling to Him and not let go, let alone hear His voice and feel His presence. I am learning this lesson moment by moment, learning to just ‘be still’ in Him. Hang in there. And check out my journey at myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com if you are interested. God bless.

  5. What a great post this is. It is so easy to get wrapped up in church activities, to involve our kids in activity. I think the challenge for our family is helping our kids foster a love for Jesus. Part of this can only be done as the Holy Spirit quickens their hearts, but my husband and I need to engage our kids in conversation, to share with them things God is teaching us in real time. Real life shared together in our home.

    You’ve got me thinking about this whole topic. Thank you!

  6. This is a very interesting post.

    We go to church and I keep the kids in church with us in spite of having kids’ church available. I believe that church should be experienced as a family, together. Anyway… some of my kids think church is boring sometimes. When pastor uses story in his sermons they enjoy it. They do ask faith questions all the time. WE like to watch Bible movies and I can see them falling in love with Jesus when he is depicted as kind and light hearted. We talk about God all the time and I don’t worry about them not enjoying church but I am concerned that their heart belongs to Christ. I became a Christian 20 years ago and the Lord changed my life. I can’t imagine my life without Him. I share that with my children. I share with them the difference the Lord made in my life. And I point out the errors of my before life. I pray and hope that they will fall head over heels in love with Jesus and never abandon Him. I think the secret to staying faithful is knowing how much He loves us. When you know how much He loves you, how can you reject Him?

  7. This is so good, so true. There are so many churches that ARE so focused on community, service, etc and the sermons are so diluted, so loosely interpreted that they really are only a few steps away from these atheist gatherings. I have a feeling we are going to see a whole lot more of these types of “churches” and a whole lot less of Christ’s Church as people tolerate the gospel less and less. Even in a lot of churches now, there is so much causality about the service, you hardly feel you are coming into God’s throne room. And yet, why can we rejoice in this? Because its exactly what Christ prophesied would happen, so we know His plan is continually being carried out in our world

  8. Children usually imitate our walk instead of obeying our talk. When they see we love God and walk with Him, they will also follow. When they grow up, they go to school and go to work. They will begin to meet others who will influence them. It is important to pray for them that God will remain the centre of their lives. God promised that His blessings will go many generations for those who love Him. So let us claim this promise and pray for our children.

  9. What is relevant here to me is the alarming notion that a church cannot/should not have “a Christ”. In other words, we do not need any God Who is a Savior or a “Suffering Servant”.
    We erroneously believe that we just need ourselves. Humanism is the god.
    WHEN ARE WE GOING TO TELL OUR KIDS TO HAVE A GOD TIME INSTEAD OF telling them to just a “have agood time”?

    in Christ’s service,
    +Fr. Bill Gikas

  10. First order of business… There is no such thing as an Ex-Christian. If one is saved by the redeeming, cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, there is no turning back. A salvation denied is one that never was. The founder that claims to be an ex-Christian can’t miss God because she never welcomed Him into her heart and life in the first place. This is the case with many church members. I am not surprised at the growth of godless Sunday Assembly. It is yet another symptom of our godless society. I pity these people and pray that God will touch their lives and they will see the error of their ways. As for the two comedians that founded the church, the evil ‘joke’ is on them. If they don’t come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, they will split hell wide open along with their followers. Extremely sad…

    1. Not true. Christians do turn from God. The bible speaks of this and warns us about learning the truth about God and then denouncing him… for that person there is no more forgiveness …

      Don’t worry about hell not having enough room. There is plenty.

      Salvation is free to all who accept it with a few minor conditions. These conditions must be kept with true effort. You will not fool God. It does not matter that a person was saved. If they choose to follow anti-God practices their salvation is no longer. To repent means to be truly sorry for your sins. Living a sinful life and shunning God is not repenting. God has given us a great offer. Don’t take Him to be a sucker. Your works will not get you to heaven, but your works will be judged by Him, too. He will give us according to our works.

  11. Paula, if your first point is true, then parents need only make sure that their kids get saved, and then who cares what the world might throw at them later?

  12. ‘We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together.’ Saddest, most tragic thing I ever heard. How sad to ‘celebrate’ that hopeless notion and encourage others to embrace it. Life is so meaningless in that case. Just so tragic amd depressing.

    1. It is a strange myth that atheist have nothing to live for. It’s the opposite, we have nothing to die for and everything to live for.

      1. The purpose of an atheist’s lifestyle is embedded in shallow everything. Not having anything to live for means nothing of true meaning. What a terrible existence. If it was factual that there is no life after death then life would have no purpose, no tangible reason to be good, why try, why work hard, for what? Just to die at any given moment and forgotten?

        What do you say for a child who dies tragically? Sorry, you got nothing? Or a person confined in paralysis? Oops, your life, your existence is of diminished value?

        It’s ironic how an atheist will claim they are the rational one, same time believing their great great great …. ancestor is a rock.
        The claim we came from nothing — how can anyone accept that? It is against all observational science, non-science and all experiences of life.

        1. I don’t sugar coat. My children are aware of my beliefs and know they can choose religion of it tickles their fancy. And you misread what I wrote. We have everything to live for, nothing to die for. Meaning I live my life for me and my children. I get the greatest joy out of being human and alive and surrounded by great people. I’m not living my life in fear of a god. I believe there is no heaven or hell. When I die, that’s it. So therefore, I live life to the fullest because you get only this one life.

          1. Believing in the truth, that life exists beyond death, does not push a person to live less of a life here, nor diminish their connection to their loved ones. In fact, it creates a stronger bond. However, knowing that life continues, allows people to live beyond the circumstances of their life, as we cannot control these issues.

            To claim “live in fear of a god,” by which is meant God, is to misunderstand biblical teachings.

            Religion does not have to be biblical. You believe in no after life, but yet, you cannot prove it, that in itself is a religion. So, by your own admission, you have refuted your position.

            To be religious in the sense you meant, is not about tickling any fancy. It is knowing that we did not magically appear in perfect design and function by an inanimate object.

            Anyway, it is too bad for you. Life does go on forever and there is no escaping this truth. Unfortunately, it is here, that we select how we go on.

      2. You say atheists have nothing to die for and everything to live for. That is so sad because this life and world is so messed up. It would be aweful to believe that this is all there is, that all you get is a world of disease, pain, suffering, struggle, and brokenness. No ultimate joy, peace, justice, or renewal of all things. I really do hope that this life is all you want it to be, because it is all down hill from here for you. But if there really is a God – and I am convinced there is – then you still have a chance to find him before you die. What if ypu are wrong? What if there is not ‘nothing’ in the end? But what if we all do get what we chose- an eternity with God or without? It is an eternal decision, one that we stake our souls on. Do not take it lightly.

        1. What if you’re wrong, you say? Well I’m not a believer in Pascals Wager, apparently you are. Which means you actually don’t have much faith at all, of you’re only true faith comes from fear of being wrong, how very sad. As for me, I’ll take my chances. I stand firm as an atheist. Yes my life is a great one. I don’t need joy or fulfillment after death. I get it now. I don’t believe I’ll be rewarded in the afterlife because I don’t believe there is one, I believe in being rewarded in the here and now.

          1. Actually, I think it takes a lot more ‘faith’ to be an atheist. It makes sense to believe that a perfectly ordered world, that the delicate balance of life, and that people’s hearts and minds and bodies are created by an intelligent being. It takes a lot of irrational faith to believe that this all happened spontaneously, accidentaly, and haphazardly.

            I think it is interesting that atheists think that just because they can identify pascal’s wager, they have somehow defeated it. Just by recognizing it in what someone says. But that does not change the fact that if I am wrong, no harm is done. But if you are wrong, you will be reminded of it every day for eternity.

  13. How true this articles is; it also includes adults. How many get so involved in churchianity, that they miss out on Christianity. The numbers swell in a church, with big emphasis on youth over doctrine, fun over sanctification and the Word. The church become a social event, rather than a chance to share Jesus Christ.

  14. The main problem I see with Christians and denominational Christians is failure to understand Christianity and the bible. How can you realistically inform others while being uninformed?
    When you adopt the idea of darwinian evolution and claim the bible the two could not be anymore in contrast. Many I have heard say that knowing facts about the age of the Earth is not required for salvation. This is true, but if you stand a chance of sharing the truth with others in a convincing manner you best get the information as accurately as possible.

    Second thing is division within Christianity. It is like watching the Republicans. It is important to understand that a new version of Christianity is adopted when someone is not fully convinced of the original biblical teachings and decide to author a new version of the bible that fit their worldview best.

    When the pope claimed God did not Create mankind he quickly destroyed the bible. If his words are true, the bible should be thrown away. Then we are left with no factual basis to believe in God. Yet, how many will continue to follow Catholicism? What about Jehovah, Mormon and others?

    Simply, either the bible is true or it’s not. If your position is that it’s not you are no longer a believer. Believing The Watch Tower is required for your salvation or that a priest must forgive your sins to go to heaven then we have escaped the teachings of the bible.

  15. Pingback: What Christian Parents Can Learn from Atheist Churches.

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