Belgium is a deeply divided nation. For 2,000 years its land has stretched across the cultural divide between the Latin/Romance world and the Germanic world. The Walloon (south) and Flemish (north) peoples speak different languages, and this affects the economy, politics, religious life, and worldviews of both communities. New immigrant communities increase the complexity. Some fear the country could break apart. Pray that national leaders have wisdom to address this complicated challenge. Pray that the Church might demonstrate unity, and be used to bring about true reconciliation and peace.
Catholicism is in rapid decline. Atheists and the non-religious now number 31%. Only 48% saw themselves as Catholic in 2010. Nominalism is pervasive; nationally, only 7% attend mass, and as low as 1% in some parts of Flanders and less than 0.5% in some Walloon cities. The Church faces five major crises - declining commitment, waning influence, a severe lack of students in seminaries, mass defections and, most of all, the pedophilia scandals that have destroyed Catholicism's reputation. The number of priests today is less than half that of 1960; their average age is over 65. The charismatic movement brought some new life but remains quite small. Pray for revival in this materially prosperous but spiritually poor land.
Protestantism has had mixed fortunes - over the last 40 years, evangelicalism grew while mainline Protestantism declined. The growth of evangelical, and especially Pentecostal, groups as well as the evangelical wing of the largely liberal United Protestant Church (EPUB) has offset the decline in the mainline Protestantism.
The Bible has been reintroduced to Belgian society after many centuries of being discouraged, even banned, by the Catholic Church before 1960. UBS unveiled a new translation of the Bible in 2004, leading to a year-long promotional tour in 2006. A Bible multimedia exhibit, Expo Biblia, united the Flemish and French Bible Societies in efforts to reintroduce to Belgians the history and stories of the Bible. BEM also has portable multimedia Bible exhibits open to the public in French- and Flemish-speaking regions. Pray that the Word of God might take root deeply within the fabric of Belgian society.
Specific outreach challenges:
- Spiritually, Belgium is one of the most needy countries in Europe, with great spiritual apathy and faith largely banished from the public sphere.
- The areas of greatest need - the smaller towns and villages in the Flemish-speaking areas and the Francophone Ardennes region (Liège, Namur and Luxembourg).
- Brussels is a strategic city. The capital region's population is over 1.1 million. It is 32% foreign, 8% evangelical and close to 13% Muslim (largely Moroccan and Turk) - with over 45 nationalities of 1,000 people or more. It ranges from increasing numbers of impoverished neighbourhoods to growing communities of affluent young professionals, from the often-isolated and marginalized immigrant groups to the powerful Eurocratic community. Pray for the various church and mission programmes reaching out to the diverse facets of Brussels' society - Serve the City (Christian Associates), BEM, IMB and AoG are but a few of many.
- Antwerp now has over 100 evangelical congregations (up from 10 in 1970), but 80% are non-Flemish. The unity and cooperation between these churches is commendable. A number of local and international ministries are reaching out to the large Moroccan community. The majority of Belgium's Orthodox Jewish population live in Antwerp with little or no outreach to them.
- Muslim peoples (North Africans, Turks, Kurds) have increased through legal and illegal immigration - the majority living in poorer urban areas. Muslims are the second-largest religious population, and there are now 380 mosques in Belgium. There is some outreach, with a handful of Arabic-speaking congregations, two Kurdish and one Turkish fellowship of believers, but many more workers are needed.
- Asian communities. OMF reports nine Chinese churches in Belgium, and the AoG has one couple working among the Chinese. BEM has a Japanese couple working within the Japanese community and have planted a Japanese church. A number of other Asian communities (Korean, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan, Iranian, Filipino) have at least one church each.
- The Eastern European population is rapidly growing - Polish, Russians, Bulgarians, Kosovars, Romanians and others. Only the Romanians have a significant number of evangelical congregations; the Polish and Kosovars have none. There is little or no outreach to these peoples.
- The student population of over 250,000 students, in 17 universities and numerous colleges, is a major challenge. IFES has a ministry in seven Flemish universities (Ichthus with 150 students involved) and in several French universities (GBU). The small work grows very slowly, despite the large number of students. OM, AoG, YWAM and others have active student ministries, often through coffee houses, Bible studies or conferences.
- The missions vision of immigrant churches is beginning to develop. The great outreach potential in these churches is as yet unrealized. Reaching out effectively to native Belgians is a step beyond the evangelism they already do among their own immigrant populations, but they are starting to be effective at planting churches among other immigrant populations.
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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.