The funny thing is, I'm not really a people person. Like a lot of atheists (supposedly), I'm quite an outsider, as much of a hermit as I can get away with, in fact. I have never liked going out in crowds or socializing with large groups of people.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because I have realized something that I want to share with you. Even though I'm a curmudgeonly hermit-y atheist, I love going to the 3 atheist/freethinker meetings we have every month. That's 3 Sundays a month where I happily leave the house and go socialize with a small group of people. And I look forward to it. The one or 2 Sundays where we don't meet I miss it.
Even people like me benefit from social community and contact. The beauty of the atheist/freethinker community is that we are relatively like-minded. We have a foundation of common ground. But we are also quite different, of course, which is good because that makes things interesting. The added bonus of freethinkers, skeptics and atheists is that we seem relatively level-headed (overall - there are exceptions, of course) and we argue and discuss matters with interest and fairness. No drama llama is invited! So it's actually fun and mentally stimulating.
I think we all need some type of community, which is one thing that religion has in its favor that being a lone atheist does not.
But this is easily remedied. I thought I'd share some thoughts on how to get involved with a secular group of like-minded people. If none exist in your area, you can start one up.
Tips For Finding A Local Atheist/Humanist/Freethinker/Skeptical Community
1. Do a local Google search on the type of group you're interested in. They may have a Yahoo, Google or Facebook group, or other page set up, or a website devoted to their activities.
2. Go to your favorite organizations and see if they have local chapters, or a list of local groups associated with them. Examples would be CFI, American Atheists, AHA, UnitedCoR, SCA, etc.
3. Look in your local paper, either online or in print. We have our meetings listed in the Today section of the paper, as well as a general entry in the church section (which is really more for a laugh than anyone looking there for an atheist group, I think)
4. Visit the library or local coffee shops for possible fliers on the bulletin boards.
Once you've seen that no local groups exist, or you find that you aren't interested in what's available, it's time to start your own.
Tips For Starting A Local Atheist/Humanist/Freethinker/Skeptical Community
1. Start a local yahoo group, Google group, and/0r Facebook group. If you are sure of the name you want your group to have, you can get a domain name and set up a blog or website for the group you are forming.
I recommend a Wordpress blog that pings to many different listing sites. This gets you into Google and other search engines much faster than a plain old website, in the easiest way.
2. Go to your favorite organizations and see if they offer any tips on starting a local chapter. Examples would be CFI, American Atheists, AHA, UnitedCoR, SCA, Atheist Nexus, etc.
3. Set a date, time and place for the first meeting. Also have a topic or agenda to talk about. For the first meeting, your location can be the library or a comfortable coffee shop. Provide directions to the meeting clearly in whatever web presence you've chosen.
4. Set up a Gmail email so people can contact you with questions.
5. Contact your local paper. Look for a contact for the Today section, or something similar. Be friendly and polite and see if they will list your local meeting.
6. Create fliers (they don't have to be big or fancy) and put them in the local coffee shops, the library, and any other places you can think of. If you created a group somewhere online, make sure to share that on the flier so people can read more, as well as your new email address so they can ask questions.
Also post to any groups you've created on Facebook, Yahoo or Google groups. Spread the word!
7. Show up to the meeting about 10 or 15 minutes early. I carry a tote bag that identifies me as an atheist (one of my Sir Lee Tees designs, a positive atheism message) to help people I haven't met yet find me in the location. I also have my picture up on Facebook and the websites so people can see my face. Then they have no problem recognizing me when they first come to a meeting. You can do something else to identify yourself to make it easier and more comfortable to people who will need to approach you. Or if you meet at the library, put up a sign in the room you are in, etc.
Expect the first meetings to be small. Maybe get a friend to sit with you for a half hour to see if anyone shows up. For Morgantown Atheists, there were quite a few meetings that were just the original founders and no one else. But with lots of messages on Atheist Nexus and other areas, it has grown to quite a dynamic little group that meets 3 times a month and now will have a secular service project ongoing.
8. Have some flexible goals in mind for the direction you want your group to go in. My experience is that these small communities sort of take on a life of their own, but having some ideas to start off with can at least give you confidence, as well as help others to decide if they want to come to a meeting.
~ So that should get you started. If you are interested in finding our starting a group, or if you do start one and want some more ideas, let me know! We can brainstorm, as I'm always looking for new ideas for my groups. :)