It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Hundreds packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational sermon, a reading and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.
Dozens of gatherings dubbed "atheist mega-churches" by supporters and detractors are springing up around the U.S. after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke.It is interesting to me because churches have been moving in this direction for a long time. They have been trying to reach people by meeting their wants and needs. They need community. They want an entertaining Sunday morning experience. They want practical advice about relationships. They need to be accepted and encouraged to better themselves. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want good moral lessons for their children
Evangelical church leaders have identified these wants and needs and found ways to fill them. Good modern music. Dynamic preaching. Intimate small groups. High quality youth and children's programs. Every need gets met so people who won't normally come to church might start coming.
The danger for evangelical churches was that every need is being met in a very human way. It means people can come to church and love it on a human level but not really meet God. Evangelicals solve this problem by incorporating challenges to become a Christian into their regular church life. The hope is they come for the human interaction and eventually they experience the divine and end up in a saving relationship with Jesus.
What we are seeing here is all the human things being offered but the church promising not to bring in any God talk. Bringing in God is always a bit sneaky. Pastors wonder how hard to push it and how often. They don't want people to leave but they don't want them to remain unconverted either. It is kind of a game being played because people know it is a church and sense the topic of conversion is going to come up sooner or later. Now we have a church that guarantees never to bring it up.
You wonder about the mass. I am not saying no Catholic church has been effected by this need-filling trend. Many have. Still there is a limit. The mass is the mass. It is oriented towards worshiping God in a specific way. It is very difficult to find a natural need that is being filled there. We are there to consume the body and blood of Jesus. It is an act of faith that demands an immediate response. Is this really Jesus' body and blood or is that crazy talk? So we can't really just appeal to the natural for a time and when they seem ready we get to the supernatural stuff. A miracle happens at every mass and the liturgy makes no sense unless you understand that that is what we believe.