Is Europe Really A Mission Field?

Is Europe really a mission field-sml2.pngTuesday 09 April 2019 02:20

Over the past year, Samantha Boog has been helping us with our media and publicity. One of her main roles has been researching the current gospel needs in Europe. In doing this, she has been interviewing those in ministry in Europe, and others with insight into the current climate. Read on to be further informed and challenged by the increasingly great need of gospel ministry in Europe.

For many of us in the Southern Hemisphere, Europe is an expensive and sought after holiday destination. We tour castles, drive through quaint villages, mosey around art museums, experience thousands of years of history, and enjoy stylish cuisines in sophiscated cafes and restaurants. We love Europe.

But have you ever considered what it’s like to be a Christian in Europe?

Europe and Christianity have been inseparable since Christendom. Many even credit Christianity as the link that forged the unified European identity. Indeed, Christianity was the dominant religion in Europe for 19 centuries, and was still home to 70% of Christians globally in 1900.

Not any more. At 2.5%, Europe now has the smallest proportion of evangelicals in the world and the slowest growth at 0.5% and declining.1 By contrast, communist China boasts triple this growth rate. A 2016 survey by the National Centre for Social Research titled, “Non-believers outnumber the faithful by the widest margin yet,” showed that 71% of Britons between 18 and 24 had no religion.(2) Indeed, the survey found that 40% of Anglican churches in Britain were composed only of people over the age of 75.(3)

Georg, a missionary with European Christian Mission in Austria, summarised the situation simply: “Europe is still full of churches, but those churches are empty.”

Yet all over the world people still look to Europeans for leadership in thinking and policy making. Many fundamental philosophical ideas still originate in Europe, so the growing atheism is being exported fast. A recent study conducted by National Geographic, in conjunction with the TV series “The Story of God”, found that atheism is now the second largest affiliation in North America and the most popular affiliation in most of Europe.

Stuart Coulton, the Principal of Sydney Missionary and Bible College, says “Europe gave us modernism with the enlightenment and the reaction to that has been post- modernism. But post-modernism hasn’t made people open to the gospel in any way, and so I think it’s unbelief that is dominant now in western Europe.”

Dr Darrell Jackson, Associate Professor of Missiology at Morling College, concludes “in a comfortable Europe where we find security in our material belongings, in our salary, our possessions; we don’t need God anymore.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that entrepreneurs and city officials across Europe now repurpose churches into skateboard parks, gymnastic arenas, museums, supermarkets, gyms and even bars. (4)

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“Many Europeans are nominal [Christians] only and often hold a very low view of the Bible”

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The rapidly emptying church buildings are really a symbol of Europe’s true spiritual decline. However, not all conversions are secular: many are also being converted into mosques. The main mosque in Dublin, Ireland, is a former Presbyterian church. The UK now has over 700 mosques and the second highest population of Pakistanis outside Pakistan.5 It is projected that by 2050, one in five Europeans will be Muslim. (6)

Not withstanding, the rapidly growing migrant and refugee population is changing the face of Europe and opening up new avenues for gospel ministry. Evangelicals can share the gospel beyond native Europeans without moving countries or learning additional languages. Unfortunately though, many European churches are poorly resourced or ill-equipped to evangelise the very people who are turning up at their doors.

Despite many still calling themselves Christian, sadly many Europeans are nominal only and often hold a very low view of the Bible. It’s not uncommon in Europe for ‘Christians’ to doubt fundamental teachings of the Bible. Richard, an ECM missionary in Berlin, recently had to take his son out of Scripture at school because the teacher claimed that the stories in the Bible weren’t true. Richard also reported a friend attending a conference in Wittenburg, Germany to celebrate the Reformation and hearing the main speaker dismiss the resurrection as a myth.

Geoff Harper, who came from Ireland to lecture at SMBC, stresses that many Australians don’t realise that, even with their relatively small population, they have some of the best Bible Colleges in the world. “Because the church in Australia is bigger and has more money, there are lots of really good institutions and lots of good Bible colleges you can go and be trained at....In Ireland, there’s one option.” He says his preconception of Christianity in Australia was quite different to the reality.
“We had this perception of Australia being a secular country, hard against the gospel, yet we came to Sydney and there were churches everywhere, vibrant churches and this certainly is not the case in Ireland.”

While usually hard to find an evangelical presence in Europe, often the search is nigh on impossible: ECM Missionaries Carolyn and James serve in the region of Spain called Basque country. Comprising a population of 38000, there is not one evangelical church in the region. Carolyn says “I used to go to Marrickville Anglican Church, and even in Marrickville [population: 54000] there would be at least five good evangelical churches and that’s just one suburb of Sydney.”

Geoff Harper took a group of students back to Ireland a few years ago to give them a taste of church life there. “We visited some church planting friends who held a combined event with four or five churches gathered together... and that was maybe 60 people.” He described this as a “shocking moment” for the students who had no idea how small the congregations were over there. He says “this has huge implications for resources, training, money, buildings; everything is impacted” by the small numbers.

The Europe of today is a spiritually dark and needy place, but Richard, missionary to Berlin, believes that the Christian resources we have in Australia have enormous potential for gospel proclamation in Europe. “The body of Christ in Europe needs solid Bible teaching; ... we need to hear the gospel and why it’s relevant to our lives today and we need people who are willing to go out and share the good news of the gospel to the lost in Europe. It’s a spiritual wasteland here.”

Yet, whilst friends might rejoice with you in your European holiday plans, it remains suspicious to propose to your church that you feel called to be a missionary to Austria, rather than to Asia or Africa; to Belgium instead of Bangladesh or Botswana. Europe’s affluence and rich Christian history means it’s often overlooked by many of us considering overseas missionary work.

Meanwhile, relics of churches litter Europe, reminding tourists of a glorious past where Christianity was thriving and bearing fruit for the gospel. Now many of those churches, if still there at all, are only buildings for tourists to take photos of on their next European adventure.

(1) Operation World Evangelicals, 1970-2020. Figures from “Christianity in it Global Context, 1970-2020”, Centre for the Study of Global Christianity, (Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary: June 2013), p17.

2() National Centre’s British Social Attitudes Survey “Religious Affiliation Amongst Adults in Great Britain” 2016

(3) Ibid
(4) The Wall Street Journal, “Europe’s Empty Churches go on Sale”, Naftali Bendavid 2015
(5) Christianity Today “Reaching the Most Unreached Through Europe” Ed Stetzer 2009
(6) Eurostat 2006

PLEASE PRAY
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  • That the Lord would raise up moreworkers for his harvest field in Europe.

  • That believers and missionaries, in small churches scattered across Europe, would be encouraged and strengthened to keep sharing the good news of Jesus with those around them.

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