Faithlessness, Skepticism

A Godless Church for Horsham?

I wanted to find out a bit more about Horsham’s thoughts on the idea of a church for atheists, along the lines of the Sunday Assembly up in London. I was on BBC Surrey & Sussex last Sunday morning to discuss the idea with the creators of the London atheist church, so I thought it was worth seeing what Horsham really thought. I shared a short questionnaire on Horsham’s lively facebook page and through the Horsham Skeptics network. The results are rather interesting.

I’m being deliberately vague about what I mean by an atheist church, as I think that if such a thing is to work, it must emerge naturally form the community, reflecting it rather than steering it.

For now I’ll give you the bare bones of the numbers so you can ponder on what they might mean. As well as the answers to the yes/no questions, I received a lot of comments and suggestions and I want to address those but for now I am out of time.

97 People filled in the questionnaire (Thank you!).

  • Of those 97, 85 said they were from Horsham so that’s 88%.

I’ll stick to percentages for the rest of the post. Oh and those of you that don’t like pie charts might want to take this sentence as a trigger warning.


Question 2: Do you practice a religion?


Yes 23%
No 77%

  • This does not mean all of these people who said NO are atheist, just that they do not practice a religion. The 77% I will refer to as “The godless” but I appreciate that it’s a broad category.


Question 3:  Would you like to see non-religious groups doing more for their communities, in the same way that many church congregations do?

q3Yes 88%
No 12%

  • Rather good support for the idea of non-religious groups doing more for their communities. This ratio held true whether they answered either yes or no to question 2.


Question 4: Do you participate in any voluntary community work that has been organised by a religious organisation?
q4Yes 20%
No 80%

  • Of those who do not practice a religion, 4% said they carried out voluntary work for a religious organisation, while 96% do not. Of course, of this 96%, some may do voluntary work for non-religious organisations


Question 5: Would you participate in voluntary community work as part of a non-religious group?

q5Yes 79%
No 21%

  • Of those who said they did not do voluntary work for any religious group, 79% said they would do such work for a non-religious group.
  • Of all the godless, 83% said they would volunteer for such work for a non-religious organisation, while 68% of the religious respondents said they would work with a non-religious organisation.


Question 6: Would you like the opportunity to explore life’s big questions with a group of people?

Yes 63%
No 27%

  • Of the godless, 65% said yes to this question so no real difference between believers and non-believers in this instance.
  • Bear in mind that only 22 of the respondents said they practice a religion so we can only extrapolate very tentatively from this sample.


Question 7: Would you attend Church-style services if they did not talk about God?
q7Yes 31%
No 69%

Again, the definition of church-style services is fairly broad but at this stage we don’t have any specifics on what such a service would include. This survey is about how people feel about their own hypothetical atheist church-style service.

  • Out of the godless respondents, 39% said they would attend such a service.
  • Out of the religious respondents, 5% said they would attend.


Question 8: Do you think a godless, church-style Sunday service would benefit the local community?
q8Yes 47%
No 53%

  • Of the godless, 55% thought such a service would benefit the community.
  • Of the religious, 23% thought it would benefit the community.
  • Of those who said they would volunteer for community work for a non-religious organisation, 55% thought a Sunday service would benefit the community but only 40% of those people said they would attend.


Question 9: Do you like participating in communal singing?

Yes 48%
No 52%

  • Of those who would attend an atheist, church-style Sunday service, 60% said they like participating in communal singing.
  • Of all the godless respondents, 40% said they liked participating in communal singing.
  • Of the religious respondents, 76% said they did like communal singing.


Question 10 was “ What would you like to see a godless congregation doing in the community or in their church-services?

There were 55 responses to this question and as you might imagine they covered the entire spectrum from “It really does disgust me” right through to some good suggestions about the kind of thing such a group should or should not do. I will respond to every single one of the comments from this poll and from the Horsham facebook discussion in my next blog post.

At this stage, no plans are being made for an atheist church but the one that started in London got me thinking. It appears from the results that there is not overwhelming appetite for Sunday services in Horsham (though some would like it) but I was surprised at the appetite for participating in community works as part of a non-religious organisation. It seems to me that there is an untapped resource of community spirit which would be realised if only there were more non-religious opportunities to put it into practise.

Could it be that the religious monopoly on “good works” actually stops more people from  doing such works than it enables to do so? Amongst Horsham’s godless, it looks like this might be the case. Interesting. (More research required).


  1. March 7, 2013    

    Phil, I have responded to this with a new post as it was a bit too long for this format

  2. March 7, 2013    

    Hi Simon. Before I respond to your proposal, can I just say that Skeptics (American) is spelt Sceptics in the UK or is ‘Horsham Skeptics’ an American export?
    I find it strange that there seems to be a huge amount of energy being expended to promote what you don’t believe in and criticise those who do believe in God! presumably the question about communal singing is in relation to singing songs at the atheist “church” about the god you don’t believe exists.
    As has alreday been pointed out there are multiple orgainsations that have no basis of belief in God through which Christians and those who aren’t Christians already serve the community. Why create a specific organisation to enable those who don’t believe in God to work for the community unless you feel threatened by the impact of what the churches have done for hundreds of years?
    There is already a church for atheists in Horsham called Kings Church Horsham and you are very welcome to attend and explore life’s big questions with us. You can even join us in serving the community in multiple ways. We really don’t mind and to the person who is “subversely volunteering”, you are very welcome as well and you don’t have to be anonymous! Phil Playfoot

  3. e.
    March 1, 2013    

    Always interesting Si, but there are already plenty of non-religious opportunities for community work in the area. With the current consultation from the Scout Association on whether to officially allow atheist leaders those opportunities could be about to expand further.

    I have no evidence, which is of course an atheist fad anyway, but I think that what is lacking is a single, non-religious organisation which people can claim to be part of when they do such work. I personally don’t think that’s really a bad thing, but I guess some might find it easier to volunteer as part of a group than to seek out opportunities alone and that could be the encouragement they need. It could also be that any ‘godless’ doing voluntary work are overlooked and the collective impact of them as a whole is underestimated because of this lack of group membership.

    Your atheist church could take nothing else but the form of an atheist ‘union’ to promote their work and enhance the image of atheists as a whole. Perhaps.

    I’m sure you need no warnings on sample size.

    I hereby declare my interests – atheist, subversively volunteering in a religious-ish organisation, a school and for a scientific communication organisation. I dare to say, perhaps, that this is more community volunteering than all but the most vigorous of church goers. Only I don’t crow about it. (Except here of course, anonymously)

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