Church conference – Copenhagen, Denmark – October 2022
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In the past year I’ve been fortunate to be able to go to a few church and church planting conferences outside France. So far, they’ve been in Germany, Croatia, Switzerland, and Portugal. This has been a real gift as I’ve begun to know pastors and planters around Europe, hear their stories, form new friendships, and see how God is at work through them across this continent.
In doing so, I’ve experienced more the difference in doing ministry in a context that is not my own, not the United States. It’s been inspiring. For one, there are fewer of church’s greatest resources – people. There are simply fewer churches across the continent to plant other churches or who desire to plant churches. Part of the reason why is because of such limited human capital: pastors and churches are initially unwilling to commit to plant because they are doing all they can to keep their own churches afloat.
Yet this creates even more of a need for church planting. New churches reach new generations, new people groups, the unchurched along with bringing new ideas to the table, identifying creative, strong leaders, and can be an evangelistic feeder for the whole community of churches. This kingdom-mindedness approach is something I wholeheartedly agree with. It calls for situations where everyone simply has to be more creative, innovative, and reliant on God.
The new church plants and the pastors and families who are planting them face this same challenge. There are fewer people who join in to give that necessary capacity to get things going. This is a big reason why fellow church planters are inspiring – they do it anyway. It’s real pioneering work – humble and determined, they know God will provide their needs and grow these churches in His time.
From Berlin to Copenhagen, from Paris to Frankfurt to Rome, churches are acting on this vision to plant. They see the great need of so many people and so few churches on the European continent and in the cities within it. In Europe, people have different attitudes to church in general. Many think it’s simply not necessary. Why spend a day off taking time to commit to going to such an institution? What does it offer those who think they already have their best life, or their image of their best life doesn’t have room for something like a church. They’d much prefer to savoring a beautiful vista, exercising, having long, lovely meal, reading up on the news and world events, or just sleeping in. This mentality lives across the US as well, even in the deep South. The difference in Europe is people are very open about their lack of time for church attendance; whereas back in the deep South, many maintain a limited affiliation or even membership at a church they go to a few times a year.
Here in Europe, there is also an open aversion to church, especially in a place with a history of religious conflict, some of it even leading to war. France, like the US, prides itself on a strong separation between church and state. Where in the US, this came about so the state would not be involved in the church; in France, it came about so the church wouldn’t be involved in the state.
The separation of religion and the public square is now not simply leveled towards Christianity, but to all religious groups. Religion is to be completely private, and completely out of the public square. If you do, it’s seen to be pushing your religion onto others and greatly frowned upon. Many organizations are not open to holding religious events and some proprietors even don’t want church groups or Bible studies meeting in their cafes. I’ve even been told the following: “If you’re reading your Bible in this or that cafe, it’s better to do it on your phone.”
Thankfully, churches are still actively planting churches even with these challenges – and I’ve begun to get to know these church planters. People are attending and committing to these new church plants. It’s a wide variety of folks. Some are expats who live abroad, and desire to be part of something new in a different place. Others are immigrants, who need the care and support of a community. Others are students. Others are just curious.
Even those we’ve met and befriended who don’t go to church have the same questions of those who do. They are the basic questions of life: “Why am I here?”; “What is my purpose?”; “What is there past this life?”; “Where do I find meaning?”; and “Where do I find meaning and purpose when the things I put the most stock in don’t give me that meaning and purpose anymore?”.
These are the questions churches can answer and are supposed to answer with the gospel. The timing of when their hearts are open to such answers is God’s doing, and He will do it. For the time being, it iss faithful church planters who grow our faith in seeing them continue to run and plod ahead, knowing God always paves a way.
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