Some say that ten or twenty years from now the U.S. society’s openness to Christianity will be like that of present-day Europe. In the past five years alone, one study shows that the number of Americans claiming no religious affiliation has grown from 15 to 20% of the population. America is becoming more and more secular.
A European friend of mine, Rev. Barry Sloan, disagrees with this prediction, however. He says that most Christians in America underestimate just how secular Europe has become and that America is unlikely to ever get to the same point. Barry is a Methodist missionary from Northern Ireland who has been serving in the former East Germany.
He said that when he speaks in Ireland about the German’s attitude toward Christianity, he asks them to imagine a Sunday where the churches in Ireland ask their members to leave their congregations and try to convert people to Islam. This is hard to even imagine let alone trying to actually do something that extreme. But that’s what Berry is trying to do in the East Conference of the United Methodist Church in Germany. He is a missionary serving as an evangelist for the conference, trying to help the church bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the unchurched population. A primary tool he’s using is Fresh Expressions, an evangelist model that comes out of England.
Barry has found, however, that one of the results of the 40-year Communist rule of East Germany is that there are a couple of generations of Germans that tend to have a passive, fatalistic mindset, and that such a mindset is even prevalent in many of the United Methodist Churches. As a result, many congregants accept the church’s significant decline and have no real sense of a need to pursue the church’s mission with greater vigor and intentionality.
All is not doom and gloom, however. God is raising up new churches and movements throughout Europe, although they’re not necessarily United Methodist. Warren Bird, from Leadership Network, writes about two such churches–Faith Church, which is reaching 50,000 people in churches all over Hungary, and the Bethel Church, which is reaching 4,000 people in Drachten, Netherlands. You can read his recent article for more details.
Barry says that it isn’t money that is needed to renew the United Methodist Church in Germany. It’s prayers and leadership that are desperately needed–prayers that God will change the prevailing mindset of many of the Christians and that revival will break out. Please join me in praying for him, our fellow German United Methodists, and the church in Europe.
— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development