In the midst of overall population decline, and in many cases, amidst the rapid decline of those identifying as Christian, it can rightly be regarded as a point for praise that evangelicals and/or charismatics manage even to maintain their numbers. As strong national Christian identities erode, evangelicals are in fact growing in maturity, confidence and a sense of their own identity within many European countries. The robust nature of these evangelical and charismatic movements is demonstrated by their increased presence in mainline churches, which are otherwise declining, in the relative stability of theologically conservative denominations and in the arrival of dynamic new fellowships and networks onto the Church scene. All of this is modest compared to great gains in Asia and Africa, but is light in an otherwise bleak European religious landscape.
Europe has enjoyed a relatively stable three decades - at least by its own tumultuous standards - almost unprecedented in its history. Most nations and peoples enjoy liberty and self-determination on a level not known for many generations. This stability has also assisted in the maturation and development of political, social, and economic infrastructure that is more well-suited for 21st Century realities than is the case for most parts of the world.
Religious freedom in the former Communist world means the opportunity for Christians to practice their faith publicly and to enjoy fellowship and collaboration with their brethren from elsewhere in Europe and the world. It sees new expressions of Christian faith emerging in Central and Eastern Europe that engage the spiritual, social, relational and economic needs of many who feel lost in the vacuum of power and philosophy left by former Communist regimes.
Positive and encouraging developments in the Church:
- The impact of evangelical and charismatic movements within the mainline confessions. The Church of England is significantly touched by renewal, by evangelical activism and especially by discipleship courses – the Alpha Course and Fresh Expressions being two of the most notable of these. Charismatic movements within Catholicism also touch many lives in Europe and beyond.
- The emergence of patterns of church, worship, mission and social action which reflect spiritual authenticity, holism, social engagement, postmodernity and multiculturalism. These are especially strong among, but not limited to, young people.
- The proliferation of prayer movements, initiatives, networks, houses of prayer, etc. The scope of their intercession ranges from a specific neighbourhood, to cities, regions, nations, social and political issues, and other religions (such as praying for Muslims during the 30 days of Ramadan). Cumulatively, it seems there is much more prayer happening in European Christianity than in recent memory – not least due to the presence of ethnic minority Christian communities which are deeply committed to prayer!
- The emergence of pan-European ministry, such as the European Evangelical Alliance, Lausanne Europe, Revive Europe, and Pro-Christ.
- A growing ecumenism of the faithful that accepts theological and ecclesiological differences and recognizes the need for spiritual unity and cooperation in the face of increasing marginalization. Believers join across confessional, national and ethnic boundaries to maximize social, political and civic impact on the world's most secular continent.
- The positive impact of immigrant believers in European countries. Their presence and growth has offered new spiritual passion and confidence in the gospel that many flagging European churches need. They have also demonstrated that Christianity is a global and dynamic force, and not a relic of a bygone era.
Socio-cultural trends that open doors for Christian witness:
- Disillusionment with the emptiness of enforced secularism and hyper-modernity leads to a new interest in spirituality and the metaphysical. Presented rightly, Jesus is of great appeal to such seekers.
- Upheaval and uncertainty in economics and politics, civic disintegration, violence and crime likewise cause many to ask questions about morals and meaning.
- Militant atheism with strong anti-Christian, anti-religious rhetoric in some parts of the EU is strident and ugly enough in character to cause many to reconsider questions of faith and God.
- The influx of non-Christian religions into Europe raises the issue of the religious identity of Europe as a civilization, both in history and for the future.
- Christian immigration has brought the presence of dynamic and lively congregations into nearly every part of Europe. African, Caribbean, Latin American and Asian churches are bringing a new and much-needed confidence to the Church scene, reminding all that Christianity is a truly global faith.
The edges of Europe - North Africa, the Middle East and Turkey - are much more accessible through changes in travel, communication, trade and culture. These provide more opportunities for immigrants to gain access into Europe (where they ostensibly might encounter believers), and more so for active Christians to visit these places for tourism, study and business.
The impact of media for Christian witness. Radio and television had a powerful impact in post-Communist Eastern Europe. Today, digital and social media allow greater connectivity for Christians, greater potential audiences for Christian content and greater venues for actual interaction between believers and those interested to know more. Many decisions for Christ are made online, much discipleship and fellowship as well.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.