Mission in Europe
A place waiting for a movement of God to bring people to faith in Jesus
As you walk through almost any city of any size in Europe, you will encounter a church building. In a German town that may be a Lutheran church, with imposing stonework. In the Czech Republic it may be a Catholic cathedral with soaring spires and lustrous stained glass. Spain will stop you in your tracks with the beauty of its basilicas. How could a continent so dotted with places of worship be considered a place where pioneer mission work is needed? How could countries like the Czech Republic, birthplace of the Moravian movement, which sent missionaries all over the world, be a place where missionaries are needed?
Almost all of Europe has been shaped by the unrelenting spread of secularism over the past century. Countries in Central and Eastern Europe that had been part of the communist bloc show the effects of the double whammy of this secularist trend combined with more than four decades of communist repression of religion. The result is that Europe today is a place where the church is small, marginalized, and often considered irrelevant. This statement is not meant to diminish the influence of the many Catholics and other believers who have remained faithful despite enormous societal pressures. But by any measure, the church across Europe has been in decline for at least the last century.
Statistics aren’t everything, and people debate the various counting methodologies, but they are helpful in giving us a sense of context. For example, the Joshua Project says that the percentage of evangelical believers in the Czech Republic is 0.74%. The Balkan countries, such as Albania (0.6%), Kosovo (0.19%), and Serbia (0.19%) have even lower numbers.
For comparison, there are higher percentages of Christians in Laos (2.54%) and Cambodia (2.5%) than in these European countries. There are local believers in all of these countries, but they are asking for others to come alongside them in the task of making disciples of Jesus among their people. Christians from all over the world are responding to that need; Korean and African missionaries are now found in most European cities.
Like most of the world, Europe today is remarkably diverse. For example, Muslim peoples living in Germany today include more than 1.2 million Kazakh people and almost 3 million Turkic peoples. These groups are largely least-reached, but living in Europe now gives them freedoms that they did not have in their home country. EMM workers in Halle, Germany, are leaning into this opportunity as they disciple many Muslim-background believers, particularly from Iran. Their stories of leaving their homeland are tragic, yet God is using these circumstances to change people’s lives for eternity. In fact, more church growth is being seen among immigrant populations in Europe than among native Europeans.
In some ways, serving in Europe is easier than in some other parts of the world. The conveniences and comforts of home are usually available and the cultural differences, at least superficially, are easier for North Americans to bridge than if you were going to Tanzania or Thailand. But the work of making disciples is hard. Resistance to the gospel is deep and entrenched. Christianity is seen as a relic of the past; a tradition with no connection to reality.
My husband and I served with EMM in Hungary from 1994 to 2006. I still remember a young Hungarian woman saying to me, “Oh, you are a Protestant Christian! So am I! I mean, I’m an atheist of course, but my family is Protestant.” The presence of all those church buildings, and the nominal nature of most Christianity seems to “inoculate” people against the faith. Like a vaccine that gives you a shot of inactive virus to prevent you from catching the real thing, so the presence of the veneer of Christian faith can often make people more resistant to considering true relationship with Jesus.
For this reason, church planting and disciple-making in Europe require perseverance, patience, creativity, and much prayer. It calls for steady and faithful sowing of seeds over the long haul. EMM is grateful for those workers who are doing just that and we are praying for more to join them, both in going and in supporting by prayer and finances.
Many scholars refer to the European social context as “post-Christian”. While it’s an easy short-hand to describe a society as having lost its previous Christian dominance, I’m not a fan of the term. Partly because I’m not convinced that the merging of state and church power that once characterized Europe is necessarily “Christian.” And partly because the phrase only describes the past and present; it doesn’t tell us anything about where we are headed.
I’d prefer to think of Europe as pre-revival. It is a place waiting for a movement of God to bring people to faith in Jesus. Our prayer is not to “turn the clock back” to the age of Christendom. Instead, we long, and work, and pray for a day when the name of Jesus is known and loved throughout the continent.
Lorri Bentch serves as Mission Team director.