Q: How does the church minister in post-Christian Europe?
A: That is a big question. If you asked a hundred people in Europe, you probably would get two hundred different answers. One problem in the mainline churches in Europe is that over the centuries, Christianity, which was meant to be a movement, has become institutionally encapsulated.
In Germany, one-third of the population consists of Catholics and another third are Protestants. That means that two-thirds of the German population holds memberships in one of the two large churches. Church attendance, on the other hand, is as low as about 4 percent for Protestants and 6 percent for Catholics. Church buildings and being a nominal member of a church are part of the German culture. Yet most of the churches are not culturally relevant.
Numerous empty church buildings witness to this fact. They are being sold and converted into apartment buildings, museums, and even breweries. Maintaining church buildings is not affordable for dwindling congregations.
This is the material side of the situation. The other side is that it seems Europe has rid itself of Christian roots. Many people have no clue about the meaning of Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost. Instead, people indulge in materialism, individualism, agnosticism, and self-realization with all of the ethical, spiritual, social, and even political consequences one can imagine. No wonder that there is a sense of resignation within churches and among the clergy. The ground has become hard.
Yet there is a hunger for spiritual experiences. Usually this hunger is tied to being satisfied with everything else, but not believing in Jesus Christ. Christianity does not seem to be an alternative for many.
In spite of this rather negative analysis, young Nazarene leaders in Germany do not want to give in to the Zeitgeist (the spirit of the time). They implement unique ways to reach out to a postmodern society. While churches are turned into secular buildings, some of our young people turn bars into churches, start coffee shops, and organize creative pre-evangelistic events in cinemas and other places.
Many established congregations have struggled over the past years with the classical evangelistic approach to outreach. Those who take the Great Commission of Jesus seriously become creative and try other avenues of reaching out to people. In Gelnhausen we host a special Friday night three-course dinner. Church people invite their friends who then get an opportunity to experience the church at its best with great food, music, drama, and caring people.
During the evening there are opportunities to talk about God, the church, and what it means to be a Christian. Over time relationships develop. We learn that building friendships and relationships needs a lot of time and patience. Belonging often comes long before believing.
Other churches offer breakfast parties for children and share the gospel in creative ways. Families are touched by God's love. One church offered breakfast to a group of people who lost their jobs due to a large company filing for bankruptcy.
Love for God, and love for people without God, compels us to find creative ways of not only reaching out, but also of moving into situations where people are living daily. Although traditional outreach has not completely lost its value, love finds and forms new ways. Love always wins.
Hans-Günter Mohn is pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in Gelnhausen, Germany.
Holiness Today, July/August 2012
In each issue, a forum of pastors, laity, theologians, and church leaders respond to your questions on subjects such as doctrine, theology, Christian living, and the church. Send your questions to Holiness Today, Church of the Nazarene Global Ministry Center, 17001 Prairie Star Parkway, Lenexa, KS 66220| E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The editor regrets that all questions cannot be printed, acknowledged, or answered.