In many parts of the U.S., being an atheist can be a lonely experience. Persons living in such areas may face tremendous pressure to conceal their atheism. For many reasons, we need a strong secular community, and the local level is where to start. The good news is that we appear to be in the midst of a growth spurt in atheist-oriented groups. In this post, I want to address how atheists can find like-minded individuals with whom to connect. I'll offer specific tips on where you can go to find other atheists in your area.
The first place I recommend you look when attempting to connect with other atheists in your community is Meetup.com. The site provides an ideal starting point for seeing what might be available in your area. If you don't find any groups listed under "atheism" or "atheists," be sure to try variations such as "humanists" and "freethinkers."
If you cannot find anything in your area on Meetup.com, you might consider starting your own group. Meetup.com does not charge much for this service, and many have had success beginning new groups.
If you cannot find anything on Meetup.com and are not interested in starting a new group, check out Atheist Nexus and Think Atheist. These are online forums, but you can often find groups for various regions, states, and cities. By connecting with people in your area online, you can often learn a great deal about what sort of resources are available near you.
I should also mention that you are more likely to find atheists around centers of education. If you have a community college or 4-year college or university near you, it is a good bet that you'll find atheists there. See if the Secular Student Alliance has listings for atheist groups there. If not, try searching the college's website.
Navigating Local Atheist Groups
When you find local groups, try them out and see if they will meet your needs. If you are in a large city, you may have several to choose from and there are likely to be important differences between them. Recognize that many groups are more focused on socializing than discussing atheism. It may be more difficult to find a support group oriented around discussions of atheism, how to face the challenges of living as an atheist in America, and the like. But be patient and you may be able to make some good connections even in the more socially-oriented groups.
I recognize that some of you have a negative reaction to my use of the "support group" phrase. You worry that this makes it sound like atheism is a mental disorder that needs treatment, but that is not what I mean nor is that how most support groups work. A support group is typically an informal gathering of people who meet around a particular topic and who are there to give and receive support, offer suggestions, tell their stories, etc. An example of a common support group would be a group for first-time parents. A support group is not at all the same thing as group therapy.