CHRISTIANITY IN EUROPE
Post-Christian, Post-Communist, Post-Modern
by Larry Winckles
According to the 2018 Pew Research Center study, “Being Christian in Western Europe,” Christianity is more often a kind of cultural and nationalist identity marker, rather than being an indicator of religious faith. The same conclusion seems to be generally true throughout most of Eastern Europe. In fact, the study reveals that European Christians are less sure about God than American “nones.” (“Nones” self-identify as atheists, agnostics, or having no religion.)
There are also many immigrant communities scattered throughout Europe. The needs and sensibilities of these populations often differ from those of the host countries. In fact, experience shows these communities generally have stronger faith practices. Ministry in these contexts requires specialized insight into the cultures represented and greater facility with languages. Who would have ever expected to find Congolese in Ireland, Venezuelans in Belgium, or Iraqis in Hungary?
Apart from specialized ministry in immigrant communities, how does the Free Methodist Church in Europe minister effectively in an environment that effectively diminishes the importance of religious faith? How does it try to connect with people who have no conception of what it means to have a living faith in Jesus Christ?
The first step is connecting with others – making friends, building trust, living life in the community, and going out to engage with people instead of expecting people to come into a church building or meeting place.
The next step is talking about faith, sharing faith experiences, and considering serious questions and doubts. This can take on many forms and occur in many different places. Most of the forms include a meal or refreshments of some sort. The Alpha Course, Christianity Explored, Dinner Church, Simple Church, and Community Church Planting are some established resources and methods being adapted to specific European cultural contexts.
Often a result of these small, informal meetings is that people are encouraged to pray for one another, care for one another, and reach out to others in need. In other words, to begin demonstrating what a living and active faith looks like. Faith may not have emerged, but faith, living and active, is being modeled.
The hope is that people will come to faith in Christ, and life transformation will begin in earnest. These new believers will already be equipped with the tools necessary to begin introducing others to a living faith in Christ, in the same manner, they were introduced. That’s multiplication! This process turns the “traditional” means of evangelism on its head. Here the sequence is to embrace all into community, help them understand what a living faith in Christ entails, to come to such a faith, and then allow the Holy Spirit to begin transforming their lives – belonging before believing, not believing before belonging