A church is a religious perspective-specific organization. Nonreligious perspective-specific organizations exist as well and serve human needs similarly.
According to Church Angel, there are more than 400 Christian congregations in Orlando (only those self-registered through that site). If you search Yelp for Orlando faith perspective-specific organizations, you get more than 1200 results for Christian and 155 additional non-Christian religious organizations.
Although recent Pew Research data indicates 24% of our central Florida population (445,367 individuals) is not affiliated with a religion and 6% identify clearly as Atheist/Agnostic (133,610 individuals)*, there are fewer than 20 local perspective-specific organizations and resources for people of non-faith in Central Florida, and few active leaders.
There is a significant gap in resources for secular American individuals and families. Many people of non-faith identify the concepts of congregation and fellowship with acknowledgement / worship of god(s) or other higher-power supernatural forces.
It has always seemed to me that the saying “Eagles don’t flock” applied to the strong, independent-minded, intelligent community of non-faith individuals. Yet as the most hated and misunderstood minority in America, the lack of visible, active non-religious leadership, congregation, and fellowship only feeds the myths and negative misconceptions about people of non-faith.
That is changing. A more positive, inclusive movement is developing. The growth trend of secularism continues to rise and the global secular community is becoming more diverse, rich, collaborative, and available. The sense of Humanism – our connectivity and responsibility to others and to our world – is increasing. Successful organizations such as the Sunday Assembly and Oasis, are gathering momentum and creating positive congregation and fellowship opportunities for secular communities.
Atheism is neither a church nor a religion. Neither is Humanism, or any other label used by persons of non-faith to identify their perspective. But we need to shift our focus and understand that congregation (coming together) and fellowship (friendship) relate to humans. Churches and religion own the perpetuation of belief in the supernatural; they do not own the concept of community.
In Central Florida, collaborative secular organizations like BE.(positive Humanism & volunteering), Black Nonbelievers of Metro Orlando, CFFC (secular political activism), F.A.C.T.S. (social and educational engagement), and Hispanic American Freethinkers each offer unique involvement opportunities and leaders who coordinate activities around around the group’s specific area(s) of focus and interest.
There are others, including collegiate organizations like the Secular Student Alliance and secular help organization such as parenting groups, addiction recovery, and Orlando’s chapter of Recovering from Religion. Each offers some combination of in-person meetings and activities, online communities and discussion forums, and information sharing.
Gathering with other humans and finding fellowship in the community is about more than religion, god(s), and faith in the supernatural. Here are some non-religious aspects of perspective-specific organization*:
- Sharing ideas
- Promote community engagement / civic duty / volunteerism
- Strength in numbers
- Meeting new people who share our values
- Social activities
- Safe place
- Connection to others
- Something to look forward to
- Celebrating special days
- Contributing – being active and productive
- Validation – others who share your views & values
- Friendship & fellowship
- Speakers, presenters, and other extended leaders who share and promote similar values
- Youth programs
- Employment assistance (referrals, networking, references, opportunities for professional development and involvement that can enhance a resume)
- Finding mentors
- Mentoring opportunities
- Positive habits
- Support for other members who need help
- A market / customers for your business
- Contact with adults outside of the family
- Youth programs and camps
- Values education for youth
- Groups – women’s groups, men’s groups, youth groups, volunteer groups, and other subgroups that bring individuals together around common causes
- Advocacy for issues we support
- Response to local and global disasters
- Opportunities for leadership and personal advancement, accomplishment, and growth
- Online communities and forums
- To set a positive example of community engagement to our families and others in the community.
- Being part of the community honors our human connectivity to others.
- Helps you find ways to improve your life
- To get out
- To seek, develop, and pursue a life of purpose
- To ask and seek answers to life’s questions
- Community pot lucks & celebrations
- To develop personal leadership
- A local organization that does work in the local community we can donate to and know our dollars are helping that organization’s mission
- To feel that you wisely invest your time
- Supports a positive worldview
- Officiants for (and guidance for) marriage, funerals, welcoming or naming ceremonies
- It helps keep youth (and all of us) out of trouble
- To help you understand your life story in the tapestry of human community and in the natural world
- Encourages creativity
- Provides hope and understanding
- Gathering together strengthens your compassion and connection to others
- To look outside of yourself and be part of something greater/larger/beyond yourself
- Provides a larger community for your children and your family
- To step outside of your comfort zone
- To help you be a happier person
- Teaching children about values, traditions, and community
- To learn about others’ perspectives on life
- To share your life story with others, and to hear theirs
- To develop your children’s self-confidence
- It gives you a sense of responsibility – it is a responsibility.
- Social activities
- reminds you that you are not alone
- To be informed about local events of interest to you
- To be informed about great things that others are doing and that your organization is doing in the community.
- Being part of the community, actively, is the right thing to do.
- Debate important issues, philosophies, and viewpoints
- Because you belong there.
- Because you want to be there.
- Provides an opportunity to give financially to those in need with others in your congregation
- Institution recommends charities aligned with your personal values
- Suggest others
The pretense of inclusion
Organizations specific to non-faith perspectives are essential resources.
The faith community often invites the secular demographic to “interfaith” activities, councils, organizations, and churches that claim to be open to all, but do not appeal to many nontheists.
True, collaboration builds bridges across our differences and partnership is needed. We should indeed work shoulder-to-shoulder with interfaith and faith-specific organizations for community impact.
While partnering is important and meaningful, joining such organizations can seem offensive to some: One of the many reasons is that interfaith communities perpetuate the delusion that “at least they believe in something” means that persons of any faith are superior to persons of nonfaith. If an interfaith is truly inclusive of secular constituents, they will need to change their name.
Owning Human Concepts
Many words you see on church signs could also be used for secular organizations because they are words reflecting human concepts not dependent on faith: Truth. Gratitude. Kindness. Answers. Meaning. Purpose. Positivism. Fellowship. Here are some church taglines that could apply to a secular organization:
- Where people gather to share and learn
- Serving our growing community
- Everyday Matters
- Building people through a loving, caring fellowship
- Where Truth and Love Make difference
- We Build Hope
- The Journey Matters
- Building Community, Empowering Leaders
- Discover Life
- Live for more
- In the Heart of the City – With the City at Heart
- Large enough to serve you, Small enough to know you
- Transforming Lives and Building Dreams
- A Place For You
- Family Oriented Dynamic Fellowship
- Living Hope For Real People
- Proclaiming & Demonstrating Love
- A Community Dedicated to Service
- Start a New Way of Living!
- Building a Community of Gratitude
- Unique, Expressive & Powerful!
- Building Healthy Lives
- Growing Together
- Proclaiming Good News
Not to mention quips like “Our members are like fudge: sweet with a few nuts!”
Here are a few traditionally faith-oriented terms and concepts re-branded for secular individuals:
- Being saved in secularism is a self-actualization; realizing that every moment of this one life is precious, and how we choose to spend those moments is an investment that has an impact beyond ourselves. Seeing the error of wasting personal resources of time, money, and compassion on faith when this life is what we have. Overcoming the solipsistic hubris of religion. Taking personal responsibility for actions. Finding an inner moral compass guided by compassion, integrity, and kindness.
- Gratitude means mindful living through appreciation of the positive. See Secular Gratitude for further discussion. 🙂
- Truth is evidence-based.
- Meaning and Purpose are elements of life identified through our talents and interests and the impact we have on others. Have you written your personal mission statement? What is your vision? What are your goals? Does your mission connect you to something greater than yourself (such as community, nature, impacting a focus area like hunger or homeless pets)? Can you identify things you intentionally do each day to work toward those goals?
- Good News is the sharing of inspirational, positive current and historical events or views that promote positive human living and a positive outlook. (Check out The Daily Good and the Greater Good Science Center for real good news.)
From the Online Etymology Dictionary
- congregation (n.)
- mid-14c., “a gathering, assembly,” from Old French congregacion (12c., Modern French congrégation), from Latin congregationem (nominative congregatio), noun of action from congregare (see congregate).
Used by Tyndale to translate Greek ekklesia in New Testament and by some Old Testament translators in place of synagoge. (Vulgate uses a variety of words in these cases, including congregatio but also ecclesia, vulgus, synagoga, populus.) Protestant reformers in 16c. used it in place of church; hence the word’s main modern sense of “local society of believers” (1520s).
c. 1200, feolahschipe “companionship,” from fellow + -ship. Sense of “a body of companions” is from late 13c. Meaning “spirit of comradeship, friendliness” is from late 14c.
Call to Action
Join local, state, and national secular organizations that align with your values and mission
Lead by finding ways within those organizations to make a difference. Do you want to host events? Help with advocacy? Serve on a board? If you don’t see an organization offering the opportunities that you think should be in your community, local and national support is available to help you start a new organization.
Serve others in the secular community and the greater community by being active and vocal. Your involvement matters.
If there were a summit of all Central Florida faith leaders, including leadership of each individual congregation/fellowship/church/place-of-worship/spiritual-center, how many individuals do you think would be invited? 400? 1,000? What if we added faith-biased community assistance organizations?
If there were a summit of all non-faith leaders in Central Florida, how many do you think would be at that table? 5? 10?
- P1: Central Florida population from Orange, Osceola, Seminole metro area data on USA.com. Christian faith congregations from Church Angel. Secular statistics of Florida from Pew Research Center’s report on the Changing Religious Landscape released May 2015.
- List of non-religious benefits of congregation and fellowship gathered by the Secular and Religious Minority Awareness diversity initiative at the University of Central Florida.
- Secular Gratitude
- Central Florida Freethought Community – local org list
- Secular and Religious Minority Awareness (SRMA) at UCF