Sunday Assembly, a godless church, founded by two British comedians that meet to hear "great talks, sing songs and celebrate life" throughout 30 cities around the world, launched a new congregation in Nashville, Tenn., last night as part of their effort to expand as a non-religious "megachurch."
The Sunday Assembly opened its first church in London in January and both Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, leaders of the atheist group, decided to break ground in Nashville as their way of "church planting" since the pair has already established stateside congregations in San Diego, New York and Washington, D.C.
Close to 100 atheist supporters gathered in Nashville, however, Jones said they initially thought their opening night would garner minimal support.
"What happened is, we had about three or four people signed up, in fact, in Nashville, and we got a miscommunication and thought there were a lot more people signed up than there were," Jones said, according to Tennessee-based ABC affiliate, WBIR-TV. "We thought we'd go for it anyway. Taking cues from the Southern Baptist Convention, we thought we'd have faith and give it a go. Sometimes it's just about getting it started."
Launching in Nashville is also the organization's way of implementing their first global start-up tour, "40 Dates and 40 Nights," an initiative that oversees start-up assemblies throughout Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia. Their current goal is to plant 40 atheist churches in one year and as many as 1,000 within a decade.
Jones says attendees can expect future Nashville gatherings to be what he referred to as "jam sessions with a purpose" where they will listen to mainstream pop songs being performed by a band. He also says the meetings will be implemented in a "leaderless" format in order to create an inclusive environment for all attendees while they celebrate life. The group also invites people from different faith backgrounds to attend and say their focus is to help people live better lives.
According to Sing Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relationsfor the Southern Baptist Convention, headquartered in Nashville, the atheist group is welcomed to partake in their assemblies regardless of their disbelief in God.
"Baptists have been strong supports of the First Amendment. If they want to establish a gathering for likeminded individuals, that's what the First Amendment supports and we support the amendment," said Oldham.
Regarding the group taking a cue from the SBC to plant their churches, Oldham said Sunday Assemblies' method will differ from the SBC's way of launching a new congregation.
"SBC has a well-developed church planting model, so I'm sure some of the sociological principles can be transferrable," said Oldham, while adding that the SBC plants churches due in part to the "energizing power of the Holy Spirit." They won't birth gatherings energized by the Holy Spirit, they'll be birthing "sociological gatherings."
So far, the organization has garnered much support from atheists around the world. In London alone, the monthly services have a regular membership of 600. Within three months after its inception, the congregation began holding two services each Sunday that they met, and by their fifth month, they moved into a larger venue to accommodate their growing church.
Jones and Evans are hoping to raise $800,000 to fund additional congregations as they plan to take on Chicago and Los Angeles to establish their next gatherings.