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Send an Atheist to Church

Planning Time2 to 4 weeks
Group Size4+
Staff #3+
Event DateAnytime/Ongoing


Activity Overview: Send an atheist to church is a unique way for your group to give back to the community in an innovative way while also generating positive buzz for your group and atheists at large. The Send an Atheist to Church event is an excellent idea because it produces positive press worthy material via genuine community service volunteering. The essential process to Send an Atheist to Church are as follows:

1. Individuals make a cash donation to a charity of your group’s choosing.
2. Individuals then choose what denomination of religious services they want the atheists to attend by putting their donation in a denominations cup - like a vote.
3. Send a couple volunteers to a service of the denomination with the largest amount of cash votes. 

Planning Timeframe:
While the essential process and overall idea are simple enough, you still would want to carefully prepare for the event beforehand. Give yourself enough time to contact the relevant charity (or charities if you prefer), engage with various faith based organizations & their churches, and planning for advertisements. You should consider contacting or appealing to most religious institutions in your area. Set aside time to contact local mosques, synagogues, monasteries etc. It shouldn't take more than a few weeks to collect all the information you need. 

Three coordinators are recommended for the task: one to handle research for charity & handling donations, one for contacting religious groups, and another for recruiting volunteers to attend the "winning" religious service and any further publicity. It is not uncommon for this event to become newsworthy. The rest of the group are the potential volunteers to go to the "winning" church. If you're using tabling as a way to advertise the event, you'll want at minimum two volunteers at the table at any one time: one solicit people's interest, the other to handle the cashbox.


Material Requirements:
Have the usual tabling supplies (banner, flyers, custom literature) on hand. You'll also need a cashbox to handle donations, and possibly a receipt book. Make signs for "Send An Atheist To Church", or "Send Us Atheists To Church" if people are confused by your message. In the photo above they have tabs with the names of the denominations which are changed based on which is receiving the most "votes".

Your table should be located in a high traffic area so you get the attention of the general student population. Another way to promote your event is to write a press release. You'll want to very clearly explain the purpose of the event, as it may initially seem strange to the student paper writiers. Also hang flyers, chalk, and distribute handouts. For many more promotional ideas, see the Group Promotion and Media Relations resource.


Suggested Walkthrough:

  1. Chose a charity that both theists and non-theists can support. Food Banks and the Red Cross are good choices. The Richard Dawkins Foundation and The Salvation Army probably aren't.
  2. Decide when and where you will table, and submit the appropriate space requests.
  3. Hold the event for more than one day. Some people might not have cash on them, and what you’re doing is likely to spread from word of mouth.  
  4. Make all of your signage. You'll need "Send An Atheist To Church" sign (or consider "Send Us Atheists To Church" if people are confused by the message), cups with denomination or specific church labels, and all of your usual SSA signs. 
  5. Be sure to check with religious organizations before adding their specific name to a list.Email and call whoever is in charge of that place of worship, or better yet, find a friend who can vouch for your character. Some places will say no, but they’re more likely to agree if one of their parishioners can vouch for your good standing. 
  6. Have a nice big chart to keep updated with running totals for each denomination. People like competition, and they’re more likely to throw in a couple bucks if they see their denomination losing!
  7. When the fundraising has stopped send the atheists out to Church to fulfill their end of the bargain.
  8. Take photos (if the church is OK with that), and write a follow up story. You can submit your follow up to The Friendly Atheist and to SSA. Use a Brag It Up form and you'll get freebies for your group! 

Send an Atheist to Church is inspired by Hemant Mehta and his book, I Sold My Soul on eBay.

This activity packet was inspired from the members of the Society of Nontheists at Purdue.

One of our best resources to find out what works and what doesn't is you - our student leaders! If you've employed a strategy that worked well, let us know about it so other groups can also use that idea. If you've learned a lesson of caution about something we suggest, point out the pitfalls. You can email us at organizer@secularstudents.org!

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