For many centuries, Europe was the bedrock of the established church. That state of affairs is long gone, according to church planting expert Murray Moerman. After many years leading Church Planting Canada, he has taken on a new challenge: the evangelization of one of the world’s most secular regions. With his wife Carol, he recently moved from Maple Ridge, B.C. to England. Shortly before he left, Mission Fields conducted the following interview.
Mission Fields: What prompted you to consider this move to Europe? Will you be there for a long period of time?
Murray Moerman: Carol and I were invited by One Challenge International (OCI) to move to Europe, to develop and oversee missionary teams there.
These missionary teams are composed almost entirely of Christians from former European colonies going back to the nations who once sent missionaries around the world – but now are in desperate danger of losing grip on the gospel for themselves.
Speaking personally, my parents left the Netherlands immediately after the Second World War, at a time when the town of 6,000 people were – in overwhelming majority – church attenders.
Today, only a miniscule percentage do so – and the nation, along with virtually all surrounding nations – requires assistance in re-evangelizing their people. Generations of young people are growing up without even a rudimentary understanding of the gospel.
I’m 58, and we have no pre-determined endpoint – aside from eventual retirement – for our time in Europe.
MF: What do you hope to accomplish while there?
MM: My hope and prayer is, through these OCI teams and others, to develop partnership movements similar to Church Planting Canada in a variety of countries in Eastern and Western Europe – for the sake of seeing ‘whole nation’ church planting movements.
MF: Europe now has a reputation for being very secularized. If this is truly the case, what do you think Christians can do to counteract this trend?
MM: Europe has nearly 750 million people. Of these, Operation World calculates about 35 million (five percent) are Christian in a broader sense; and out of this number, about 50 percent are evangelical.
Compare this 2.4 percent evangelical in Europe with 3.6 percent evangelical in Asia, 10.8 percent in Latin America, 15 percent in Africa and higher in North America.
Europe has historical monuments to a Christian past in the form of majestic, empty cathedrals. But it is, in fact – from the perspective of Christian faith – the new ‘dark continent.’
For those who like stats, Operation World lists 17 European countries with less than one percent evangelical populations.
This is interesting when juxtaposed with non-European countries with more than one percent evangelical population, such as: Saudi Arabia, Guinea, Laos, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, North Korea, Nepal, India, Egypt and China
Is Europe secular? Yes: it is deeply humanistic. But humanism cannot extinguish human spirituality; humanistic spirituality simply seeks something other than God to relate to.
In Europe, that ‘other’ is often Hinduism in its Western new age garb, pre-Christian paganism or occult movements, and a variety of human potential streams.
My personal view is that deliberate, focused, sustained church planting movements have the greatest potential of counteracting this trend.
I believe this both because of Paul’s example in scripture, and because of my experience in Canada – where, in the last decade, we have seen both the rate of church planting and the percentage of evangelicals grow.
I believe the two are directly related – simply because church planting brings unreached people to faith in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, at the same time in Canada, we have seen both mainline and Roman Catholic movements lose members, while closing churches.
In Europe, I believe the form of church planting with the greatest potential of tipping Europe back in the direction of the gospel is to facilitate a movement involving every able-bodied Christian. The approach is to seek a ‘person of peace,’ as described in Matthew 10 and Luke 10; then begin a house church in their home – and reproduce it, when the person of peace is able to lead the church in their home.
This does not, of course, replace other historic forms of church planting; but is simply a necessary supplement to them to impact Europe broadly with the gospel. All forms of church planting are needed simultaneously.
MF: Some speculate the growth of Islam in Europe – mainly through rising birthrates – will eventually lead to Islamization of some countries. Do you see this as a real possibility?
MM: Yes, the Islamization of Europe is a distinct possibility in several, particularly Western European, countries.
I would say that, in 50 years, Europe will be primarily Muslim, pagan or Christian. Which of the three it will be, will be up to the prayer and obedience of Christians. The battle for the soul of Europe is intense.
The best response to Muslims, as to all those who are not yet followers of Jesus, is loving, personal and relational. Muslim people are responsive to Jesus, and to those who love like him. We as Christians need to have open hearts and homes, and give those who respond – and many have already responded to Christ, but are keeping their heads down – a safe place to relate to other believers. Most European Christians, like most Canadian Christians, are too often afraid of Muslims – or too selfish to give of themselves to their Muslim neighbours. There are many ‘persons of peace’ in the Muslim community, and house churches are the safest settings in which to reach and disciple them.
MF: What are the prospects for extensive church planting in present day Europe?
MM: Humanly speaking, the prospects for an extensive church planting in present day Europe are very difficult – for many reasons I won’t go into. But God’s purpose is unchanging. So I am confident that God has ways of going against the flow, and that church planting will happen anyway – perhaps not conventional congregations, but Christian communities nevertheless.
Most church planting is currently – as God has often has done in history – taking place at the margins. There is significant church planting among the Roma people, who are despised by most Europeans.
Immigrants into Europe, or from one part of Europe to another, are planting. Young people are forming informal communities. How God will work in the future, I don’t know. But that he will, I am confident.
MF: Is there a lot of missionary work in Europe? If so, which countries are sending the most missionaries?
MM: About 175 mission agencies from Europe and around the world have sent about 3,500 missionaries to work with the 715 million unreached Europeans. Is that a lot? I don’t think so, especially when one looks at the low percentage of believers in Europe to help with the huge task.
I don’t know for certain which country sends most missionaries, but I believe it to be the USA – mostly because of the comparatively high cost of sending missionaries to Europe. Most Southern Hemisphere missionaries, however, go to countries with equal or lower standards of living than their own.
There are increasing numbers of missionaries being sent from Southern Hemisphere. Our team in Spain hosted a conference seeking to bring Latin American missionaries into North Africa and the Middle East.
MF: When you visited recently, did you get to any of the big African churches in Europe?
MM: No. I know of them, but haven’t visited them. One of the most notable is African pastor Sunday Adelaja’s Embassy of God Church in Kiev. It is the largest congregation in the Ukraine. Germany also has large congregation, led by a Nigerian pastor.
My personal view is that one reason for this remarkable phenomenon – again from the margins – is that African leaders understand faith, are unintimidated by doctrines of political correctness and are used to taking risks.