It should not be news to anyone who is enough of a United Methodist geek to actually read my blog that the UMC and mainline protestant religion in general is on the decline. Fewer people are going to church and nondenominational mega churches are very much in vogue.
But there is a new megachurch movement that got my attention. It is the Sunday Assembly group.
Sunday Assemblies look like most new church starts. Tonight one meets at the Theatre on San Pedro Square in San Jose, California. The advertising asks, “Want to play in the band? Think about philosophy? Become a Community Action Hero? Sing in the choir? Put out the chairs? Make the tea? Connect with other people in your area? Come sign up for an adventure!”
But here’s the one thing it doesn’t ask:
Do you believe in God?
Because the Sunday Assembly movement is a megachurch for atheists.
It recognizes that people in our society are desperate for community. At some point people have to get out from behind their smart phones and 900 channel cable systems and actually talk face to face with people. They want a place to serve, connect. Their motto is “live better, help often, wonder more.”
That could be the mission statement for a lot of good UM churches. But we’re different aren’t we? Or are we? As you consider this movement, ask yourselves two questions:
1. Do we offer the same sense of community that folks are seeking in the anti-church like Sunday Assembly? If someone walked into your church on a Sunday morning (or heaven forbid Friday afternoon) how long would they have to listen to know it is a place where they could “live better, help often, wonder more?” or would they simply be asked to “Pray for us, give often, meet more?”
2. What do you offer your visitors? Is it just a show with good music, above average preaching and the best free-trade coffee in town? Or do you challenge them to become disciples? To love Jesus, and rather than “helping often” truly be the hands and feet of God?
I do need to point out that the Sunday Assembly movement is spear-headed by Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, two comedians from Great Britain. So it may all be a tongue-in-cheek poke at organized religion, a la the Presidential Debate between Comedy Central’s John Stewart and Mo Rocca. But whatever their purpose, they report having raised $50,000 to date and have 40 church meetings scheduled across the country.
I know from experience that a new church start is a difficult but very rewarding experience. I would hate to see two comedians from the British Invasion do a better job with it than United Methodists.