Think mission, and imagine a map of the world. Where are the spiritually neediest places right now? All those unreached people-groups, especially those in India and China? The Muslim world? The many other countries where to be a follower of Jesus is to live in constant danger of being arrested, attacked, or even killed?
Those needs and dangers are very real, but they are not the whole story. Here are a few surprising facts:
- China and India, who each have just under twice the population of Europe, have at least five times as many evangelical Christians as Europe.
- One of the fastest growing churches in the world is the church in Iran, a Muslim country where the persecution of Christians continues to be a frightening reality.
- Nigeria alone, with 28% of the population of Europe, has around four times as many evangelical Christians as Europe.
Am I saying that China, India, Iran and Nigeria don’t need the gospel? Not at all! They do, but Europe needs the gospel too; maybe more than is sometimes reflected in our missionary vision, prayers and involvement.
The current spiritual situation in Europe
How do we measure Europe’s current spiritual situation? Here are three ways we can:
What percentage of Europe’s 750 million people are real Christians?
The statistics that we have, based mainly on church affiliation, suggest that around 2.5% of people in Europe are evangelical Christians, but taking into account nominal evangelicals, 2% would probably be more realistic. That cold statistic represents real people: 98 out of every 100 people in Europe are not evangelical Christians. It’s perfectly possible, of course, that some people who don’t identify as evangelicals may be true Christians, but how many people like that do you know?
How well off is Europe in terms of the number of faithful churches?
For a church to be considered faithful, it would need to be clear on the Bible as God’s Word, on the fundamental teachings of the Christian faith, and especially, on the message of the gospel.
In most European countries you might have to go quite a long way to find a faithful church; I’ve lived in several different areas of Spain and it’s not uncommon to have to travel an hour or so to get to the nearest evangelical church. I think the situation would be similar in most other European countries.
How many more gospel workers are needed in Europe and how many are coming through?
Europe needs many thousands more evangelists, ‘disciplers’, church planters and pastors. We’re thankful for those we see coming through, but so many more are needed.
My wife and I went to Spain because we realised that mainland Europe was a neglected mission field. Why? I think there are two main reasons: firstly, Europe is religious and it already has plenty of ‘Christianity’; and secondly, Europe is relatively rich, and somehow the perception is that poorer countries need the gospel more than richer countries. Of course, we know that’s nonsense; no religion has ever saved anyone, even if it had a Christian label, and the rich need the gospel just as much as the poor.
When we look at Europe through the lens of the gospel, we realise that most of its people are spiritually lost, that there aren’t that many faithful churches in most of the continent and that it desperately needs an ‘army’ of new gospel workers.
What are the main challenges in Europe today?
I will highlight four challenges.
I mean churches that don’t really believe what the Bible teaches or that anyone needs to be saved; churches that are doing little more than keeping alive a particular tradition, or desperately trying to keep up with our rapidly changing world.
Gospel-less churches are not harmless: they misrepresent Christianity, they lure millions into a false sense of security and they lead millions to reject what they think Christianity is, but in reality, isn’t.
Islam is growing fast in Europe, whether that’s through immigration, through many Muslims having big families or through people converting to Islam. We can find it very challenging to share the good news about Jesus with Muslims, perhaps because we don’t know as much as we should about their religion and we might be afraid of offending them. Sometimes we can be affected by prejudice and fear, or wrongly think that it’s too hard for a Muslim to change their religion, but the growth of Islam in Europe represents an unprecedented opportunity; the Lord is bringing the Muslim world to us to make it easier for us to share the gospel with them.
Secularism is the fastest-growing ‘religion’ in Europe right now, whether we think of the anti-Christian media, the aggressive ‘new atheists’ or the person next door, who lives as if there were no God, no meaning in life and no life after death. We can’t assume any knowledge of biblical Christianity on the part of most of the people around us. It’s no wonder that some Christian missionaries in Muslim countries feel sorry for us; often they are seeing more opportunities and encouragements than we are.
The current pandemic has not only affected the lives of millions of people all over the world; it’s made any kind of ‘normal life’ virtually impossible, including a normal Christian life. At the European Mission Fellowship (EMF) we have seen one in five of our missionaries go down with Covid-19. One of our retired missionaries died, several others had to be hospitalised and one or two are suffering from the long-term effects of the virus.
Most of the churches we’re working with have been significantly affected by Covid-19; in some places, up to half the congregation have had the virus and both pastoral care and outreach have had to move online. Some of the countries most affected have been Poland, Romania, Ukraine and the Czech Republic.
What are the main encouragements in Europe today?
The Lord is answering our prayers for more gospel workers for Europe. We have recently accepted new Moldovan and Romanian missionaries, and there are others in the pipeline. All over Europe there are people coming to faith. I know of several churches that have seen conversions during the pandemic, often through online contact with the gospel. The Lord, in his sovereignty, is using the internet and social media to speak into the lives of all sorts of people. More and more church planting is going on all over Europe; it’s thrilling to see even quite small churches in Poland and elsewhere planning their next church plant.
The rest of Europe is our Samaria, and it is currently one of the spiritually neediest parts of the world. So, let’s renew our commitment to local outreach and to global mission, but let’s not neglect our responsibility towards the rest of our tremendously needy continent.