Today is Sunday. Millions of Americans are waking up, fixing their hair, putting on make-up, getting dressed up in various levels of formality, piling into their cars, and heading off to church. Once there they might reconnect with some old friends in the lobby, perhaps have a cup of coffee, and then they will slowly make their way inside a large room to find a seat.
In a few minutes, the lights will go dark in the room, and stage lights will illuminate the band. Most of the churches I’ve visited these past few years have legit bands, often led by tattooed, bearded, long-haired singers accompanied by skinny-jeans wearing lead guitarists. Slowly as the songs progress, not unlike most rock concerts, hands will start to rise in the crowd. The audience will begin to sway and move to the driving rhythm of the music. The differences here being that this is not an audience, but a congregation, and these songs are not about heartbreak or life on the road, but about lambs, lions, salvation, and the blood of Jesus.
This is “worship.”
As the band wraps up their set, the preacher makes his way on stage. The crowd is ready. The lights go up and the sermon begins. The message will likely be about the pastor’s interpretation of some snippet of scripture. Most everyone will agree.
Bookend the sermon with several prayers, make sure to remind everyone to get saved lest their eternal souls perish in everlasting hellfire, play another song or two, and pass around an offering plate at some point. There you have it; a completed church service.
The congregation will feel cathartic, renewed, upset, weepy, bored, unsettled, guilty, or any number of emotions depending upon what they heard. They will shake hands with friends again, get back into their cars, and maybe go enjoy a family lunch before they head home to watch football.
The process will repeat the following Sunday.
Here’s what I’ve been thinking about and I know I’m not alone on this. We are, humans that is, social animals. There is power in scale and in numbers. It’s healthy to congregate. Some surveys suggest that people who attend regular church services report being generally happier. They might even live longer. I happen to think evolution selected for our desire to have group cohesion. Intuitively it makes sense for a social species with little to offer in terms of tooth and claw, to benefit from groups.
But with the numbers of religious “nones” on the rise and with many who like the social aspect of church but who are no longer interested in hearing about guilt, hellfire, and bathing in blood, I think there is real opportunity to fill the void.
My idea is a something like a Sunday celebration of reality.
I’m not sure what to call it exactly. I’m thinking about a service sort of like the Sunday Assembly but a bit more focused on “spirituality,” which I define as that feeling of awe and transcendence one can discover from time to time throughout one’s life, along with a physical focal point around which people can congregate.
I want something more organic and closer to home. A very simple gathering that brings people together who want to discover a spiritual connection, but who also want to have some launching point for contributing good deeds to their local community. It will be a hub for organizing food drives and blood drives, volunteer efforts at local schools, relief efforts, and all of the other good stuff that churches are able to do due to their infrastructure, tax exempt status, and scale, but without any of the supernatural accoutrements that go with it.
The Sunday service I envision goes something like:
- Brief welcome
- A 20-minute guided mindfulness meditation
- A 15-20 minute talk about some topic, maybe from a holy book, maybe from a science finding, or maybe just some observation about what’s happening in current events
- A 5-minute guided meditation
That’s it. Everyone goes off to enjoy their day, hopefully slightly less captive to their own emotions, and certainly free from any supernaturally inspired shame or guilt.
That’s my idea. We could start meeting in a local school auditorium within a month or two. So if you live in Cobb, Paulding, Bartow, or North Fulton counties in the Metro Atlanta, Georgia area and think this would be a Sunday service you or someone you know would be interested in attending, please reach out to me and let me know.
It’s just an idea for now, but I’m happy to take the lead to make it happen if there is enough interest.