Human beings are naturally social, and the emergence of the Internet has given us even more ways to connect with each other, both online and in person. Online event marketing tools have given people more opportunities to find others with similar values and interests.
Unsurprisingly, religious groups are taking advantage of these opportunities to reach out to their current adherents and recruit new followers. But how effective are these social events that exist as additions to regularly scheduled worship services? According to a new study by Eventbrite, they can be a very effective tool for religious organizations to extend their outreach. The research shows that most people, however, attend these events primarily for the benefit of interacting with like-minded individuals. The study reported that 74 percent of people said the special events made them feel more connected to a community. The sense of spiritual fulfillment or connection to a deity that people get at these events, while still important, wasn’t quite as crucial as the social interaction they experienced. Sixty-nine percent of individuals emphasized increasing their faith as a reason for attending special religious events.
So what can humanists and other nontheists learn from a study about religious communities and their events? For one thing, Religion News Service’s coverage of the study mentioned that over 50 percent of “nones,” that is, individuals who report affiliating with no religion in particular, have reported attending religious special events either “occasionally” or “often.” A quarter of nones also indicated that they had a serious interest in attending religious special events. Many humanists strongly suspect that at least some nones are humanists without knowing it because they use reason and empathy in order to shape their values and ethics. But if humanists are not effectively reaching out to these individuals, they may never know that there are communities out there that share their values and worldviews, no gods required!
The study also makes some recommendations to faith communities that humanist groups could adopt. For instance, the study indicates that special events such as concerts, festivals, and dinners with speakers, often attract more individuals from outside the specific faith community if they include a diversity of outreach methods, including word-of-mouth, emails, social media, and an online presence for the event. For groups looking to attract a younger audience, offering food and drink seems to be a reliable method for attracting attendance. Across all ages, however, respondents to the study indicated that they were most interested in attending events with featured speakers or that offered opportunities for volunteering and community service work.
In fact, many humanist groups are already putting the recommendations from this study into practice. And their efforts seem to be paying off. The American Humanist Association’s number of local chapters and affiliates is growing exponentially, and groups like local Sunday Assemblies are also on the rise. National nontheistic organizations also offer convention-type opportunities, such as the American Humanist Association’s annual conference, for individuals from around the country to come together, share ideas, learn from each other, and have fun. Though the study doesn’t include humanist communities in its assessment of special events, one can’t help but wonder if the findings would be comparable if Eventbrite looked at humanist and atheist special events.
Whether the findings from the Eventbrite study are being applied to religious organizations or local humanist groups, one thing is for certain: people are just as hungry for community and social interaction as ever, and more and more of them are going online to look for it.