A week ago I had the privledge of hosting Ed Stetzer and several pastors from the U.S. in Barcelona. After he returned I was wrote a blog post for him on www.edstetzer.com and I want to post it here today. I will talk some about these three streams in the coming days. So I invite you to respond. By being a church planter first in the United States for over 10 years and now in Europe I see some things that shape our lives and ministry in Europe that I think would help me if I were to plant a church in the states again.
So grab an espresso and enjoy.
My name is Larry McCrary, and I have lived and worked in Western Europe since 2001. What can I say? The history is fascinating, the sights are out of this world and you can’t find a better cup of coffee. However, when it comes to living out one’s faith incarnationally in the day-to-day here, you have to consider the cultural context.I like to think of Western Europe as a river with three major cultural streams affecting it right now. Each stream is a spiritual challenge in itself, but combining the three makes for extra-difficult navigation when it comes to engaging people with the gospel.
The first stream – which is decreasing in size – is that of the institutional church’s decline. This may be the Roman Catholic Church in some countries, the Church of England or the Lutheran church in other parts of Western Europe, but as a whole the churches are declining in attendance. What makes this stream interesting is that, while it is decreasing in size and influence, the veneer of the institutional church still has an impact on the culture.In Spain, where we served for the last five years, my friends would say they were not part of the church and would speak out against it. In the next sentence, however, they would claim that they were Catholic, thus identifying themselves as religious. The opportunity for those of us who live here among these people is to help them see it’s not about religion, but about a relationship with God.
The second stream worth mentioning is that of the post-Christian or secular worldview held by many Western Europeans. Evangelism research shows that, in most Western European countries, less than 2 percent of the population is evangelical. (“European Believers Report”, 2007 by Ruth Robinson, Greater Europe Mission)The only exception to this is Scandinavia, and they have a whopping 3 percent according to most studies. (“European Believers Report”, 2007 by Ruth Robinson, Greater Europe Mission) The worldview of most indigenous Europeans is post Christian/secular. While most are generally closed to the idea of institutional church, the hope lies in believers who will live out their faith incarnationally in Europe.
The third stream is also growing rapidly, and that stream is Islam. The flood of Muslim immigrants moving to Europe over the last 10 years is incredible. Most major Western European cities have several mosques, and in some cities, mosques are literally replacing the empty cathedrals.The increase in the number of Muslims moving to Western Europe makes an impact on the cultural and religious climate. Believers have a great opportunity for ministry in that we don’t face the same restrictions on sharing the gospel as those in closed countries. This gives us some freedom in how we can minister among people.