I felt sick to my stomach.
I had just read this article about the rise of “atheist mega-churches” in the U.S. and Australia – with more to come because of their success.
One of the founders of the first atheist church, Sanderson Jones, said that he got the idea while leaving a Christmas carol concert six years ago. He said, “There was so much about it that I loved, but it’s a shame because at the heart of it, it’s something I don’t believe in,” Jones said. “If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people – and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”
That’s when my stomach started churning. If that’s all we are – good songs, interesting self-improvement talks, and wonderful, helpful relationships – then we’re failing miserably. The bride is failing her groom. And His name and His glory are at stake!
When atheists cross the threshold of our churches (ok, and the threshold of our homes!), we want them to walk away noticing that we’re different. And that the God we worship must be real. That there could be no other explanation for what they witnessed.
The movement of His Spirit when His people are together lifting His name in worship should be undeniable (Psalm 34:1-3). And the transformation in our lives (Romans 12:2) that occurs for all who love Jesus should be evident. So when people try to explain it away, they just can’t apart from Jesus. It’s supernatural.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is in Acts 16:16-40 of Paul and Silas in jail. The end result of them unnaturally turning to God in worship – despite their wrongful beatings and imprisonment – was the powerful salvation story of the jailer and his family. The jailer’s heart turned from fighting to keep them captive, to hungering to know their kind of freedom. He wanted to know their God!
And then there’s this part of David’s story:
David waited on God → experienced transformation → was given a new song of praise
→ people saw and trusted in God!
When people give our churches a chance, let’s make it hard for them to leave saying, “I want everything they have except their false God.” Let’s pray they leave saying, “Their God is real. Their God is powerful. I want their God!”
Let’s show the emptiness of the atheist churches by showing the fullness of God in us (Ephesians 3:19) – and the undeniable glory of the God we worship. If all they see is something they can easily reproduce sans God, then something is terribly wrong.
But let’s don’t make the mistake of taking this as a Sunday morning challenge. And faking it doesn’t work. It’s a challenge to seek to know, love, and worship the God Almighty every single day.
That’s when authentic transformation really happens. That’s where we receive what He wants us to bring to our churches to help build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:15-16). And it’s where He transforms us into what He wants reflected to the world – Himself (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Because lives are at stake. And His glory is at stake.
What steps can we take to make sure our churches authentically reflect the One True God to the world?