Oasis Network



2009:  Mike Aus left his position as pastor of the Living Word Lutheran Church in Katy, Texas.

2010-2012 (March):  Aus served as pastor at Theophilus Church in Katy, Texas.

2012 (September):  Aus founded the Houston Oasis.

2014 (April):  Kansas City Oasis held its first Sunday meeting.

2014:  Aus and Stringer founded the Oasis Network.

2015 (October):  The Oasis Network Podcast started on Soundcloud and iTunes.

2016 (February):  Cache Valley Oasis began holding services.

2016 (March):  Utah Valley Oasis began holding services.

2016 (April):  Wasatch Back Oasis began holding services.

2016 (May 15):  Salt Lake Oasis and Northern Wasatch Oasis began holding services.


The Oasis Network was founded by Mike Aus and Helen Stringer. Aus, a native of Baltimore, Maryland who attended college at the University of Michigan, along with eight others founded the first church in what became the Oasis Network, Houston Oasis, in Houston Texas. Before establishing the Houston Oasis, Aus had served as a Lutheran pastor for about twenty years, first in the progressive, non-denominational Living Word Lutheran Church in Katy, Texas and then, for a short time, at Theophilus Church in Katy, Texas (Chitwood 2013; Sanburn 2014).

After a nearly twenty-year career, Aus [Image at right] resigned from his duties as pastor at Living Word Lutheran Church in 2009. According to Mike Rinehart, bishop of the ELCA’s Texas-Louisiana Gulf Synod, Aus resigned when he was informed that he was to “be referred to the disciplinary committee” (Chitwood 2013). Aus, who was married at the time, was about to be investigated for having consensual sexual relationships with at least three married women (Chitwood 2013). Between sometime in 2010 and March 2012 Aus served as pastor of the Theophilus Church (Theophilus 2012). He often wrote stories for the Theophilus Blog and was featured in many videos of the group, mostly recordings of his sermons (Theophilus 2012).

Aus reports that he had always harbored some doubts about his faith. He refers to himself as having been a “cafeteria Christian” and never having believed in hell (Sanburn 2014). For him church was about the community that church offered. As his doubts continued, Aus began to consider leaving the ministry. His first step was to join the Clergy Project, an online network of pastors who shared their doubts about their faith traditions (Sanburn 2014). The public transformation of Aus’ life and career occurred when he appeared on MSNBC’s Up With Chris Hayes (2012). On that show, and while still pastor of Theophilus Church, Aus publicly declared he no longer believed in a supreme deity (Silva). Shortly after his announcement, the Theophilus Church, which had just under 100 members at the time, collapsed and closed its doors (Theophilus 2012).

Aus formed the Houston Oasis in September 2012 as a community for Houston atheists through a local atheists Meetup group (Houston Oasis n.d.; Sanburn 2014). The first meeting drew about forty attendees (Chitwood 2012). Attendance has grown to just under 100, with some services drawing well over 100 and several hundred others participating in its email list (Winston 2013).

The concept of a network emerged with the founding of the Kansas City Oasis by Helen Stringer [Image at right] in 2014. Stringer [Image at right] was raised in a Protestant family and attended Minnesota’s North Central University, a Pentecostal institution. She later earned a Masters degree in Human Services and Counseling (Campolo 2015; Kendall 2014). By her own account, Stringer also had been losing her religious faith, but missed the community that she had enjoyed through church membership. As she remembers, “It all just unraveled in a matter of three or four years.” Faced with a loss of community, she sought an alternative. She reports that “it dawned on me that there had to be a way to create a supportive and multigenerational community without all the dogma and exclusion which tends to dominate many religious communities. My family was missing all the great stuff that religious communities provide like human community, connection, shared life experiences and support” (Eveld 2015). After unsuccessfully searching for an already existing group of the kind she envisioned, Stringer contacted Mike Aus at Houston Oasis and used the organizational model he had created to establish an Oasis in Kansas City. According to Stringer, Kansas City Oasis’s first meeting drew about 120 people, and about 200 people regularly attend meetings (Campolo 2015).

Having now established two very similar groups, and, realizing that there might be other people with the same desire to start a group for non-religious people, Aus and Stringer collaborated to form the Oasis Network. Indeed, one purpose of the Oasis Network is to help other groups organize and set up an Oasis in their area (Stringer 2014). All the locations follow the same organizational model and present a coordinated appearance through similarly designed websites. The goal of all members of the network is, in Stringer’s words “to bring non-religious and unaffiliated people together in a compassionate environment, to celebrate the human experience, and to feel inspired and empowered (United Coalition of Reason 2016).


The Oasis Network is built around five basic precepts: People are more important than beliefs, humans are able to understand reality through reason rather than revelation human problems can only be solved by humans, human meaning is achieved through making a difference in the world, and everyone should be accepted for who they are and, correspondingly, accept others on the same basis. These six “Core Values” are elaborated on the Network Oasis website (Oasis Network n.d.)

People are More Important Than Beliefs
Throughout history beliefs, dogmas, and ideologies have divided people and have been the source of wars, persecution, and other conflicts. The Oasis movement values the well being of people over any abstract belief, dogma, theology, or philosophy. Our common humanity is enough to bind us together in meaningful community. (And, yes, we are fully aware that this is also a belief—but we’re just fine with a little irony in our lives!)

Reality is Known Through Reason
Most religions claim to have special insight into the nature of reality on the basis of revelations given by supernatural beings. As a secular movement, the Oasis communities are committed to exploring and understanding reality on the basis of empirical evidence and rational discourse.

Human Hands Solve Human Problems
The challenges facing humanity are largely created by humans themselves. We don’t wait for divine intervention. If the world is to become a better place for all people; it is up to us to make it happen through our collective wisdom, resources, and efforts.

Meaning Comes from Making a Difference
Oasis communities do not exist only to satisfy the needs of their members or perpetuate the Oasis movement. Rather, Oasis communities are committed to service projects and civic engagement that improve the lives of others locally, nationally, and internationally.

Be Accepting and Be Accepted
Oasis communities strive to be places of acceptance for all people. We embrace and celebrate humanity in all its diversity and we foster an environment of compassion and kindness without regard to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and family structure. (“Core Values”)

In one of her media interviews (Campolo 2015), Stringer pointed out that Oasis Network is not anti-theist but rather is built on an alternative, positive concept of community and acceptance and of understanding the world through reason and the scientific method. She openly acknowledges that while the group is “for people who do not fit into church and want community,” at the same time not everyone will fit in. People who are looking for a supernatural explanation will not find it at Oasis.


Although Oases are not religious organizations, they hold weekly meetings on Sunday mornings in order to foster community and allow families to attend meetings together. Stringer (2014) writes, “religious communities connect young parents, engage seniors, enrich teens, and much more.”

The meetings begin with diverse, original music performed by local musicians (Pluralism Project 2013). The musical interlude is followed by the “Community Moment.” During this time anyone in attendance can speak on a topic of their choice for up to twenty minutes. Each week there is a different speaker with a different style and message. The next ten minutes are devoted to “mix and mingle” socializing over coffee. The main presentation at the meeting can be a member of the group or a guest speaker; in the early days of Houston Oasis the speaker was often Mike Aus. The topics that are covered cover a wide range including secular humanism, evolutionary psychology, empathy, and stories of people who left their churches. The meeting concludes with music by the artist of the week. Oasis also offers children’s activities on while meetings are in progress.



Each Oasis [Image at right] is independent, with its own founder and governing body. Oasis Network and each Oasis location are 501c non-profits, charitable but not religious organizations. Helen Stringer is the co-founder and President of Oasis Network; Mike Aus is the co-founder of Oasis Network. All the Oasis groups follow the same code of conduct and have almost interchangeable websites. The code of conduct prohibits various forms of verbal and physical harassment, discrimination, disruptive behaviors, and illegal activities (Kansas City Oasis n.d.)

The Oasis Network has been expanding rapidly. Eight Oasis groups have now been established: Houston, Kansas City, Toronto, and five in Utah. Other groups are in the development stage: one each in Washington state and Ontario, Canada, and two in Texas (Eveld 2015). Aus and Stringer advise and mentor the development of new groups and provide “starter kits” to teams seeing to establish a new Oasis (Campolo 2015).


The Oasis Network has encountered relatively modest challenges since its inception. Mike Aus’ controversial history at Living Word Lutheran Church does not appear to have followed him into the Oasis project. And the Oasis project itself, built on the vision of a secularist community, has not triggered the same kind of resistance that groups emphasizing their atheistic stance have experienced.

Although it is quite infrequent, there has been some pushback from some sectors of the Christian community, where atheism is regarded as apostasy. Commenting on innovations like Oasis, Pastor Ken Silva (2012) warned: “ Combine this [increasing syncretism] with those who’ve left reality to go mentally off-roading into the Wonderland of  Humpty Dumpty language  and we have the recipe for confusion and apostasy.”  

There also has been some criticism of the concept of creating what Sanborn (2014) described “a church that’s not a church,” which has been leveled at the emerging Sunday Assembly tradition. As Sanborn (2014) observed, “…the very concept of an atheist church—and even the term itself—is an anathema to many in the movement. Some believe it’s too much like the very thing they disavowed in the first place. Comedian and avowed atheist Bill Maher has also picked up on this theme, warning against atheist gatherings that resemble traditional churches, stating that “It undermines the whole point of atheism, because the reason why people need to get together in religion is precisely because it’s nonsensical,” Mike Aus has responded directly to this type of criticism: “There are a lot of people in the free-thought movement who say, Well, this is just mimicking church….But if we don’t offer regular human community and support for nonbelievers, it would be detrimental to the movement.”


Image #1: Photograph of Mike Aus, founder of the Houston Oasis in Houston, Texas

Image #2: Photograph of Helen Stringer, founder of the Kansas City Oasis.

Image #3: Image of the Oasis Network logo.


Campolo, Bart. 2015. ”Wonder-full Podcast # 6: Helen Stringer.” Bart Campolo, August 20. Accessed from http://bartcampolo.org/2015/08/wonder-full-podcast-6-helen-stringer on 26 May 2016.

Chitwood, Ken. 2013. “After Crisis, Living Word Church Finds Footing.” Houston Chronicle, May 30. Accessed from http://www.houstonchronicle.com/life/houston-belief/article/After-crisis-Living-Word-church-finds-footing-4562492.php?t=b0274409f2 on 17 May 2016.

Chitwood, Ken. 2012. “Church Offers Sanctuary for Freethinkers.” Houston Chronicle, October 26. Accessed from http://www.chron.com/life/houston-belief/article/Church-offers-sanctuary-for-freethinkers-3982205.php on 17 May 2016.

Eveld, Edward. 2015. “Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists Find Community at Kansas City Oasis. Kansas City Star, January 10. Accessed from http://www.kansascity.com/living/star-magazine/article5568999.html on 18 June 2016.

Houston Oasis. n.d. Houston Oasis. Accessed from http://www.houstonoasis.org on 18 May 2016.

Kansas City Oasis. n.d. “Code of Conduct.” Accessed from http://www.kcoasis.org/about-oasis/code-of-conduct/ on 18 June 2016.

Kendall, Justin. 2014. “Helen Stringer Discusses Kansas City Oasis in This Week’s Questionnaire.” The Pitch. August 27. Accessed from http://www.pitch.com/news/article/20564500/helen-stringer-discusses-kansas-city-oasis-in-this-weeks-pitch-questionnaire on 26 May 2016. 

Oasis Network. n.d. “Core Values.” Oasis Network. Accessed from http://www.peoplearemoreimportant.org/about-oasis/ on 18 May 2016.

Pluralism Project. 2013. “Houston Oasis Tracey Gee Community Center.” Accessed from http://pluralism.org/profile/houston-oasis-tracey-gee-community-center/ on 15 June 2016.

Sanburn, Josh. 2014. Nonbelief System. Atheist “Churches” Take Hold, Even in the Bible Belt.” TIME Magazine, August 4. Accessed from http://www.peoplearemoreimportant.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Time-Nonbelief-System.pdf on 20 June 2016.

Silva, Ken. 2012. “Pastor Turned Atheist Mike Aus and His Houston Oasis ‘Church.’” Apprising Ministries. October 26. Accessed from http://apprising.org/2012/10/26/pastor-turned-atheist-mike-aus-and-his-houston-oasis-church/ on 19 May 2016.

Stringer, Helen. 2014. “Guest Post: Helen Stringer in the Identity of Oasis.” Patheos, November 4. Accessed from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd/2014/11/guest-post-helen-stringer-on-the-identity-of-oasis/ on 20 May 2016.

Theophilus. 2012. Theophilus Blog, April 11. Accessed from https://theophilushouston.wordpress.com on 16 May 2016.

United Coalition of Reason. 2016. “Interview: Providing an Oasis for Non-Theists.” United Coalition of Reason, February 24. Accessed from http://unitedcor.org/interview-providing-an-oasis-for-non-theists/ on 18 June 2016.

Up With Chris Hayes . 2012. “Pastor Comes Out as a Non-Believer.” MSNBC, March 24. Accessed from http://www.msnbc.com/up-with-chris-hayes/watch/pastor-comes-out-as-a-non-believer-44110403865 on 17 May 2016 . 

Winston, Kimberly. 2013. “‘Atheist Churches’: Nonbelievers Find A Sunday-Morning Connection.” HuffingtonPost, March 14. Accessed from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/atheists-churches-nonbelievers-find-a-sunday-morning-connection_n_3096949.html on 17 May 2016.

David G. Bromley
McKenzie Uphoff

Post Date:
21 June 2016