LOS ANGELES – When Bart Campolo broke with the church almost five years ago, he immediately began to feel something missing.

It wasn’t so much that the pastor’s son no longer believed in God; he’d never been that much of a believer anyway. What he missed, Campolo said, was what the church had represented to him: a place where like-minded people could gather for fellowship, to pursue moral justice, to help one another and to try to live good lives.

So the onetime United Methodist youth minister, who worked for decades with the poor in inner-city neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, figured he’d try to keep doing that by presiding over what he cheerfully calls “a church for people who don’t believe in God.”

Campolo, 51, joined a growing movement of college “humanist chaplains,” arriving at the University of Southern California last September.

“How do you live a good life? If this life is the only one you have, how do you make the most of it?” are some of what he calls the Big Questions that he has his flock of atheists, agnostics and free-thinkers pondering.

Although things like the local club for atheists are not new on college campuses, humanist chaplains leading them are, said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. His group counts only a handful, mostly at such prestige schools as Harvard, Yale and Columbia.

“Our mission is to build, educate and nurture a diverse community of atheists, humanists, agnostics and the non-religious,” said Jonathan Figdor, Stanford University’s humanist pastor and co-author of “Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the Twenty-First Century.”

He and Speckhardt expect the humanist chaplaincy movement to spread across the nation’s campuses in the coming years.

“As more people are coming out and more people are becoming atheists and humanists, universities are recognizing the need to service their diverse populations, including people who don’t believe in God,” said Speckhardt, adding his own organization has grown from 5,000 to 30,000 members in the past 15 years while collecting 400,000 Facebook followers.

USC already had more than 50 religious leaders ministering to students of various faiths, said Varun Soni, dean of the school’s Office of Religious Life. So it seemed only right, he added, to bring one in for non-believers seeking spiritual guidance.

“Spirituality is really engaged with the ultimate questions that make us human. The questions of meaning and purpose, of significance and authenticity,” Soni said. “Many of our students who identify as religious find the answers to those questions through God. But we realize that not everyone does, and we want to be a resource to our entire university community.”