“Live Better, help often and wonder more” – Crowdfunding Religious Practices

assemblyThe Sunday Assembly, a godless congregation set up by comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, is looking to raise £500,000 to build a digital platform that will enable the movement to scale.

The organisation launched in January 2013 with the mission statement to “live better, help often and wonder more”. It runs events on Sundays where people come together to listen to talks, sing songs and “generally celebrate the wonder of life”. It has since expanded to 35 different cities. It’s done all of this with a very basic WordPress website. The plan is to raise the money through Indiegogo and set up a three-person team — a UX specialist, developer and product manager — dedicated to building the platform.

“We are a charity, so we can’t give stock options so we have to pay wages,” Sanderson Jones told Wired.co.uk. The platform will help people lean how to set up their own Assembly, connect with each other and create their own meetups.

Jones believes that there is “an incredible opportunity to change the world for the better”, citing studies that have shown that people who go to church are healthier, wealthier, live longer and are happier.

“If we increase people’s social capital by creating real-life communities and supporting networks, then we can increase wealth, without spending loads. It’s social capitalism. And we think the best way to create more of these meetings IRL, is to harness the power of networked computers, so that we can get away from networked computers,” he said.

Isn’t £500,000 quite a lot of money to build a website? “How many early-stage startups do you know which raise half a million pounds? All of them,” he says.

Creating a platform for international expansion suddenly makes Sunday Assembly sound a little bit organised — perhaps too much like religion? But Jones is quick to counter: “Things which are organised are not necessarily bad. A lot of people mistake the organisational aspects of something [Religion] with the bad things that have happened because of it. Lots of organisations are great: Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, Brownies. A lot of bad done in the name of religion has been done by the folk who are more organised.”

He highlighted the absurdity of the argument by relating it to cars. “Imagine saying you don’t want a car from one of those organised manufacturers. Organisations can do wonderful things.”

He and Evans looked at different models of self-organisation, such as Ted X and how churches have lay ministries, but settled upon their own process, which is more about “recommendations and resources” than “rules and regulations”. They have established a charter that outlines the ideas behind the Sunday Assembly, which has a mission to “help everyone find and fulfil their full potential”. Sunday Assembly is 100 percent a celebration of life (“we are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together); it has no doctrine and no deity; is radically inclusive; free to attend; has a community mission and is independent (from companies or sponsors).

Crucially, The Sunday Assembly doesn’t “bash religion”. “A lot of atheists and humanists knock religion,” says Jones, adding this is at odds with the radical inclusion. “We’ve got one in Brighton that’s been set up by a Christian,” he adds.

Jones believes that his and Evans’ performance background as comedians has helped them nail the service element of an atheist church (“It’s tough to get people to come for tea and cake and then try to build a service around that”). They can offer guidelines about the format that works best, but say that once self-organised Sunday Assemblies get it right, they can do what they want. “Lean the rules before you break them.”

He describes the monthly service as the Minimum Viable Product. “It’s the smallest thing you can do to start the community,” Jones explains. Once people have learned how to do that, they can add more volunteers, then “add a book club, a philosophy club, then make it twice a month and then weekly…” he adds.

Beyond the meetups, Jones has ambition to move towards community action projects. “So many things churches do are really amazing. We want to combine that urge with the scalable backend and then it’s really crazy to think about what we could achieve.”

“If you talk about there being no God or humanism, people don’t always know what that feels like. But we celebrate life. Just being alive is this wonderful thing and it really inspires people to do stuff.”

He compares it to the open source software movement. “We are going to try and crack the open source community action nut. That’s the big goal.”

One minor thorn in Sunday Assembly’s side seems to be Alain do Botton, who describes Jones and Evans’ organisation as “a blatant rip-off of what we do” [at his Sunday Sermon]. “We’re sad to see its so-called ‘creators’ attempt to take the credit,” he told Time Out.

Jones says of the snub: “I really don’t know why he’s got such a bee in his bonnet about The Sunday Assembly. Neither Pippa nor I have ever been to his Sunday Sermon so it would be tricky to rip him off. Alain, if you want to talk, our door is always open. Also, if anyone wants a laugh they should check out this Tumblr John-Luke Roberts made Alain de Bottom. It’s pictures from the comedy show Bottom, with Alain’s tweets.”

Over to you, Alain.

[Source: Olivia Solon @ Wired UK]


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