Source: The Daily Beast
Author: Nico Hines
Plans to set up almost 400 “atheist churches” on five continents are underway after the extraordinary success of one small congregation that began holding godless services just over a year ago.
Word about the religion-free church spread like wildfire after the first Sunday Assembly was held in a deconsecrated church in Highbury, North London, in January 2013. By September, 100 congregations will be holding services from Singapore and South Africa to Sao Paulo and San Diego. A further 274 teams currently are working on plans to launch their own assemblies.
The church’s first General Assembly is being held this weekend with leaders from all over the world gathered in South London. In 150 years of the Anglican Church’s Lambeth Conference, it’s safe to say none has begun quite like this--with a raucous group karaoke rendition of “I’m So Excited,” but then Sunday Assembly is a very different kind of world religion. Their gatherings resemble traditional church services with singing, lessons and the chance to interact with members of the community. The only thing missing is God.
Sanderson Jones, the group’s leader and CEO, and a stand-up comedian by trade, says the young organization is replicating the traditional church structure as it expands. But he says the empire is also attempting to harness the organizational knowhow and social interaction of Grindr and the National Rifle Association.
“We’re right on the buckle of the Bible Belt. … A lot of people tell me I’m going to Hell.”
“This is the first time we’re coming together like this,” he said. “We’ve had such a short time but I think we’re going to build something magnificent, something that’s going to last.”
The group’s rapid expansion has caught everyone by surprise. It is currently growing by 26 per cent each month but there is no end to Jones’ ambitions. “There are 1.1 billion non-religious people in the world,” he told The Daily Beast. “We want to have a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one.” In other words, as he told the gathering of leaders on the opening day of the conference: “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”
In order to help as many people set up assemblies as possible, Jones has started to study the mechanics of running a huge organization. “My Twitter feed has got a lot less funny -- people are wondering ‘why is he retweeting a pdf of different corporate governance structures in social enterprises?’” he said. The research has led him to marvel at the N.R.A., one of the few organizations with what is considered the holy trinity of benefits and service, a membership community and a media platform. “Another good example is Grindr and Tinder,” says Jones. “If St Paul was alive today he wouldn’t be writing letters he’d be writing code.”
Jones is constantly exploring ways to create an equally efficient network with even bigger growth potential, but this weekend before he got down to all that, it was time to get down. The lyrics of the second track of Saturday’s musical opening, Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” were projected on a big screen.
Clap along if you feel,
Like that’s what you wanna do.
They did. Two women from The Netherlands swayed from side-to-side; an enthusiastic chap from Newcastle, in the northeast of England, danced in front of his seat in the auditorium; and a broad-shouldered man with graying dreadlocks from Tennessee clapped in time with the music.
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