by Walter Frank
The need to plant vigorous evangelical churches in Europe is acute. It is illustrated by the statement of a State Church pastor in Germany who declared, “We are all Christians here without having the least suspicion as to what Christianity is.” Four hundred years after the Reformation there are still 250,000 towns, villages and cities without a Protestant church.
The need to plant vigorous evangelical churches in Europe is acute. It is illustrated by the statement of a State Church pastor in Germany who declared, "We are all Christians here without having the least suspicion as to what Christianity is." Four hundred years after the Reformation there are still 250,000 towns, villages and cities without a Protestant church.
It is easier to hear the gospel in the French-speaking countries of Africa than in the mother countries in Europe. One is more likely to run across a believer in Spanish-speaking lands of Latin America than in Spain. I do not agree with the critics who point to the great piles of stone called churches and cry, "Europe had the gospel!"
Church planting in Europe constitutes a major challenge, with four basic problems.
1. Tradition. Almost no area exists where a mission can feel free to plant a church without running into firm opposition from local Protestants or Catholics. In traditionally Christian Europe only two churches are accepted as proper: Protestant (Lutheran-Reformed) Church or the Roman Catholic Church. The tiny free church movement is viewed with contempt by traditional church people.
2. Church membership. Evangelistic endeavors in Europe have proved fruitful, but the real problem follows in church membership. When a German, for example, becomes a Christian he has three options: (a) Remain in the State Church. In most cases this proves spiritually disastrous. (b) Remain a member of the State Church, but meet with a fellowship group or one of the free churches to receive spiritual food and fellowship. (c) Make a clean break with the State Church through the proper legal process. Papers must be filled out and properly notarized declaring the believer free from the State Church and no longer responsible to pay the church tax.
Many converts are reluctant to take this step. They find it easier to remain in the State Church, attend the morning worship there, and then fellowship with a free group in the afternoon or evening. The most rapid spiritual growth is seen in the lives of converts who boldly make a clean break.
In view of the above, it is not difficult to understand why church planting has not flourished in lands of traditional Christian culture. It is only as people break completely with the old that they can become effective members of a New Testament self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating church.
3. Theology. Greater than any of the above roadblocks to church planting are the deeply imbedded theological concepts of infant baptism and the sacrament of consubstantiation in the communion and the belief that these mystic forms carry some merit that may be forfeited by separation from one’s traditional church. Many converts require much careful counseling and Bible study before they are ready to throw their entire future spiritual lot in with a tiny group of nondescripts and foreigners.
4. Money. Neither Protestants nor Catholics in Europe have been taught the scriptural grace of giving and Christian stewardship. Tithing is foreign to them; free-will, happy giving is almost without example. It is easy to see how this condition developed in countries where the church is state supported, where spiritual life is at a low ebb, and where the teaching of the Lordship of Christ is largely unknown.
Christian stewardship must be taught from the very beginning. A plan must be adopted early to challenge the young church to assume more and more financial responsibility. Two major financial hurdles require wisdom, sacrifice and sensitive timing: phasing out missionary leadership in favor of a national pastor, and securing suitable permanent facilities. The extremely high cost of property in Europe makes this a major barrier.
So much for the problems. How can we overcome these obstacles to church planting?
1. Prayerfully study the religious situation of the country and choose an area where little or no gospel witness exists. There are thousands of such towns in Europe.
2. Where a struggling evangelical group exists, seriously consider strengthening this group by cooperative effort, rather than confusing the situation by starting another group.
3. Through evangelistic efforts, door-to-door surveys and other means, discover a responsive area, or an area where a number of Christians live to constitute a nucleus for the beginning of a church through Bible study groups.
4. Always team up with one or more nationals who share your burden. Develop a Paul-Timothy relation that will both play down the American image and at the same time train national leaders.
5. Realize that you are engaging in the hardest type of missionary work in the world. Dig in for the long pill and expect God to give the increase.
6. There are no short-cuts to success. Get to the people, door-to-door, man-to-man, in market places, with literature distribution, home Bible studies, consistent Christian living, and a testimony without reproach.
7. Be more committed to your task than Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Communists. Believe that you have the Living Water so desperately needed, the Word of Life, the only remedy for lost men.
8. Believe that when people are won to Christ the work has only begun. Go and make disciples, bring men to maturity in Christ. From the very first, be sure they know that God expects them to be spiritual reproducers.
9. Love, love, love! Pray without ceasing that the love of Christ may be shed abroad in your hearts by the Holy Ghost. Long before you can communicate effectively through the language of the people you can communicate eloquently through the language of love.
Copyright © 1972 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.