Optimism or Despair?

Republished with permission by Vista, see original article here
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the health of Christianity in Europe? And speaking on behalf of your network, agency or church, what makes you optimistic about the church and mission in Europe?
All the leaders who responded to our questionnaire were optimistic about some aspect of the state of Christianity in Europe, and in some cases markedly so. In short, they all see signs of God working across Europe. A number of common themes emerged from their responses.

Church Planting
Four of the leaders coincided in highlighting church planting initiatives in many countries. Raphael Anzenberger noted that when they started NC2P ten years ago, only three countries were in a national church planting process, whereas today 16 are formally part of their network and in their 2018 gathering 28 nations were represented. Others observed a general “growth of evangelicalism” and “people open to hear about the gospel”. Two specifically mentioned movements of God in Central and Eastern Europe.

Intercession and Mobilisation for Mission
Daniel Constanza of the Pentecostal European Fellowship observes a “renewed fervour for intercession and evangelism in all kinds of forms” and this was echoed by Mike Betts of Relational Mission: “we are mobilising many in prayer right now which will fuel mission”. From a mission agency perspective, John Gilberts of GEM observes “interest of new, younger missionaries to come and serve” and the diaspora church leader, Usha Reifsneider, also sees that “more young people and people who are ready for a second career are joining the work of mission”. Harvey Kwiyani of Liverpool Hope University is more cautious because “most Europeans still do not understand that Europe is a mission field and those who do are still unable to figure out how to engage this new mission field of Europe”.

Younger Leaders
More broadly, the emergence of a new generation of younger leaders was celebrated by many. “God is raising up some amazing younger leaders whose desire is to be part of a movement of God’s Spirit in our content”, said Tony Peck, General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation. Jeff Carter echoes this: “all the agencies and churches that I work with and for would celebrate the emergence of younger leaders who are standing now on the shoulders of those who waded through the tough times”.

Diaspora Churches
Another common positive theme was the impact of diaspora churches in Europe with six of the leaders making some reference to this. Kent Anderson, Director of ECM Britain, sums this up: “The ethnic church has breathed new fervour and vision into the church in many countries. Faith has returned to Europe!” However, different aspects were evident. Some highlighted the challenge and opportunity of reaching out to refugees and asylum seekers. Others observed that churches are emerging as a result of both internal and inward migration (ie. both between European countries and migration into Europe from outside). Harvey Kwiyani, of Liverpool Hope University, noted that “diaspora churches are growing, and as they grow, they are learning what it takes to reach Europeans with the gospel”, whilst Reifsnider observed that diaspora Christians are now being better understood by Europeans.

Several leaders also noted the growing number of partnerships across geographic, cultural, linguistic and denominational borders. “There is a growing willingness to cooperate and join forces among evangelical groups”, said Frank Hinkelmann of the EEA. John Carter takes this even further: “There is a platform for open dialogue and a chance to work together…to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to all generations and cultures for those who call Europe home”. Cueva calls this new spirit of misión: “reciprocal collaboration”.

The Church
If there was one theme which elicited both optimistic and pessimistic comments, it was in regard to the church. Several of the leaders pointed to the emergence of more missional forms of church and that many churches have “become places of welcome and grace for people who have been displaced”. But others highlighted persistent institutionalism and the need to develop new wineskins for the new wine that God is fermenting in Europe. Frank Hinkelmann, the President of the European Evangelical Alliance, in particular noted “the erosion of Biblical authority in a number of churches and denominations”. This is undoubtedly a result of the secular public domain which is a reason for pessimism for many, though Tony Peck sees “more Christians “getting out there” in the world of politics and society to witness to Gospel values in a secular pluralist society”.

Hope for Europe
Yet the ultimate reason for hope is not to be found in the signs of optimism listed above but in the promise of God, and that came through loud and clear in the responses from this group of leaders: “Christ has made promises over his church that cannot fail”; “God is sovereign and He is in control of everything….God’s kingdom will be established sooner or later; “The Church belongs to God and God will not forget Europe”; “Jesus promised that he WILL build his church”.

The missiologist Lesslie Newbigin was once interviewed on the radio. The journalist asked, “Bishop Newbigin, are you an optimist or a pessimist about the future of the church?” His response was categorical: “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead”.

The leaders interviewed for this edition of Vista see many signs of hope in Europe today, but they all agree that the ultimate reason for hope is the gospel itself: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ is on the throne and will come again in glory.