Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Activity 3: Why Atheists Go to Church

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Consider why you belong to your congregation. Be prepared to share with the group.

Description of Activity

Participants discuss reasons why people, including atheists, belong to a religious community.

Ask participants to say why they come to this faith community. If their answer is "Because someone makes me," then ask what they most like or value about it. Then ask why they think the adults they are closest to come. Express appreciation for the varied reasons the youth offer.

Distribute index cards and writing implements. Invite participants to write the reasons they come to their congregation-not just their top reason, but all the reasons-on the cards. Every reason gets its own card. Also, write down the reasons the adults closest to them come, again with each reason on a separate card. Allow time for all reasons to be written down.

Invite participants to spread out all the cards they have written on the floor or a table and group them into categories: for example, if one reason is "pot luck dinners" and another is "holiday parties," these could be grouped under the category Social Gatherings. If some reasons fit in more than one category, allow the youth to problem-solve. Creating labels for categories can help clarify groupings.

Once the cards have been categorized (and there may be categories of one), create a tally on newsprint of the reasons for coming and the numbers associated with each category. Are the results what the youth would have predicted? Would the results differ if they polled the whole congregation? If so, how might they differ?

Distribute Handout 1, Why Go to Church? How do these results of a nationwide U.S. poll differ from this group's? Are there ways they could agree more than it seems at first? For example, "freedom to pursue my own spiritual path" is not a doctrine, but could fit under the category Doctrine/Beliefs because the person values the support the congregation provides to her beliefs.

Ask, "Looking over the reasons you gave for yourselves and your families to come to your congregation, how many of them could apply to atheists? Could atheists and agnostics find support and opportunities at Unitarian Universalist congregations in all the categories the youth identified? Would there be barriers for their involvement in the congregation?"

Ask the youth what religions offer people. Add or summarize that religions help us discern meaning and purpose in a context of caring community. Would some atheists and agnostics want this as well as some believers?

Including All Participants

If any participants have mobility issues, a table would be preferable to the floor for this activity.