What Human Community Is Really All About

Freethought groups and freethinkers around the country are working to create viable, satisfying, multigenerational communities—and meeting with varying degrees of success. Some have forged a connection with young people and families, even starting humanist children's programs and parent support groups. Others, however, find their membership numbers frozen year after year as the average age of their members drifts slowly upward. What makes the difference between a thriving, growing community and a stagnant one?

The answer lies in an understanding of community itself. You can't choose your family, but membership in a community is largely voluntary. Give me what I'm looking for and I'm likely to stay. Give me something less and I'll go elsewhere. It's just about that simple.

Freethought communities stagnate when they fail to work hard enough at understanding what people are seeking—what human needs have spurred their search for a community in the first place. Too many freethought communities have drawn their purposes too narrowly. They are about inquiry, reason, the search for truth, and the rejection of religion. They don't want to attend churches because they don't want a community that's centered on gods and theologies.

What they fail to realize is that theology is less important to most churchgoers than a number of other benefits. In many cases, they attend despite the theology.

It is telling that only 27 percent of churchgoing U.S. respondents to a 2007 Gallup poll even mentioned God when asked for the main reason they attend church.7 Most people go for personal growth, for guidance in their lives, to be encouraged, to be inspired—or for the community and fellowship of other members. These, not worship, are the primary needs fulfilled by churches.

If freethought communities wish to build their memberships well beyond the 60ish white male demographic that currently dominates the rolls (God bless 'em!), they must begin considering the real reasons people flock to church. It's not about theology. It's about belonging. It's about acceptance. It's about mutual support and encouragement. Most of all, it speaks to needs beyond the intellectual into the emotional.

This chapter will offer several specific ways in which freethought communities can speak more directly to these needs. Organizing freethinkers has been compared to herding cats, and there's merit in the metaphor. Nonetheless, nonreligious families are clearly looking for community. This chapter is about helping freethinking families find and build the communities they seek.

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