It's easy to tell that the building used to be a church. The rich red brick is now pocked and broken, but the outline of a Russian Orthodox sanctuary can be discerned. The exposed pipes crudely jutting into the building's side also make it clear it had been converted to a factory during the Stalinist era. But one certainly cannot tell from the street that this is now Saint Petersburg's second-largest and fastest-growing evangelical church, the Temple of the Gospel.
In the basement, the large open room serves as classroom, ministries' headquarters, and restaurant. Upstairs, the sanctuary holds two levels of pews where the Orthodox faithful used to stand. The once magnificent frescoes are now painted over, except for one of the resurrected Christ behind the pulpit and choir. (If the frescoes were fully restored, it is likely the Orthodox would sue to reclaim the church.) This ten-year reclamation project resulted from the vision of a pastor, Sergei Nikolaev, who has also dreamed of a new graduate-level seminary (see "A Fuller for Russia," p. 23).
This church, my first stop in Saint Petersburg, made me feel I was taking a time trip, 50 years back in the history of American evangelicalism—before our institutions were so large, before we had an infrastructure of publishing houses, magazines, and radio and tv stations for communicating with fellow believers, before it was clear we were going to "make it."
Today it is a real question whether the Russian evangelicals will make it. One pastor estimates there are only 12,000 evangelicals among Saint Petersburg's 5 million. Some Orthodox leaders make life difficult for evangelicals, while others are partners; but the difficulties pale in comparison to the challenge of reaching the ...1