Sometimes discussing Europe as a mission field feels like talking to Eskimos about global warming. How can the continent that developed the creeds, spawned the Reformation, and birthed modern missions itself be a mission field? Our friend Ed Stetzer nails it pretty well.
According to the European Spiritual Estimate (http://emrg.friderich.net/), only 4.2% of that population follow Jesus and demonstrate concern about the people around them following Jesus. Hundreds of millions of people are waiting to have the opportunity to encounter the transforming power of the gospel. In most Western European countries, evangelism research shows that 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.
God's Spirit is issuing a modern Macedonian Call: Can you hear it?
It's easy to be a Euroskeptic related to the gospel. This continent is not currently the land of spiritual awakening and growing churches. To quote one pastor: "There are more churches shrinking than there are growing; there are more churches closing than are being planted."
But rather than swing to the opposite extreme of uninformed optimism, sometimes confronting the brutal facts has its place. My daughter once climbed into my lap, smiled, looked me in the eyes, patted my tummy and said: I don't want a fat daddy.
Ouch. But sometimes an ouch can move us to action. In that spirit of looking at reality as a motivator to action, let's think about Europe for a moment.
Writing about the UK, Professor Callum Brown says that "quite suddenly in 1963 something very profound ruptured the character of the nation and its people, sending organised Christianity on a downward spiral so the margins of social significance."
Timothy Garten Ash states that Europe is "now the most secular continent on earth." Statistics from across the continent would support these assertions*:
1. "Religion plays a very important role in my life." Those who said yes:
- USA: 60%
- Italy: 27%
- Germany: 21%
- France and Czech Republic: 11%
2. A 2004 British survey:
- Believe in God: 44%
- There is no God: 35%
- "I don't know" 21%
- Amongst those aged 18 - 34, "There is No God" rose to 45%.
3. Between 1973 and 1994, the proportion of French people claiming no religion grew from 11% to 34%.
4. British respondents declaring "Jesus was the Son of God:"
- 1957: 71%
- 2001: 38%
5. Jesus actually lived:
- 80% of 65 and overs agree
- only 54% of those 18-24 agree
6. "I seldom or never attend a place of worship:"
- USA: 16%
- Scandinavia and Low Countries: 40 - 50%
- UK: 55%
- France: 60%
7. 60% of Czechs identify themselves as atheists; only 19% believe in God.
8. Between 1970 and 2005, the Church of England closed 1,700 of its structures
(10% of the total)
SUMMARY: A Europe based solely upon the Enlightenment cannot survive. Michael Novak
CONCLUSION: I was once flying into Edinburgh with my friend Jim Laffoon. Jim is both a student of history and a discerner of spiritual realities and as we were landing, I was hoping for profound insight into the Edinburgh context. After musing in silence for some time, Jim said: "It's dark . . . It's really dark." And that was that. Well thanks, Jim - tell me something I don't know. But in hindsight, he was right. Can God's gospel win here? Oh yes. Can the light of God's truth shine again in Europe? Absolutely. But we must understand the reality into which we are moving.
As Jim Collins so astutely said: Confront The Brutal Facts - yet never lose faith.
* These quotes and statistics are from God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis (Philip Jenkins, Oxford, University Press, 2007, pp. 1-29).