Protestant churches in Russia, many of them less than 10 years old, are confronting a different set of problems than the ones they faced after the Soviet Union's demise in 1991.

Alexei Bychkov, who served as general secretary of the Evangelical Baptist Union for 19 years during the Soviet period, explains how Russia's evangelicals see themselves differently today.

"Atheism helped us unite because all believers were persecuted. Freedom brought divisions because we could resume our own traditions," he says.

Bychkov is now president of the Moscow Evangelical Seminary and the Russian Bible Society. "Divisions do exist, but the younger generation is tired of divisions," Bychkov says. Through the 1990s, Protestants (mostly Baptist, Pentecostal, Seventh-day Adventists, and Presbyterians) grew rapidly and now represent about 1.1 million of Russia's 145 million people.

New priorities

As Russia's Protestant churches mature, they are developing different priorities.

In the early 1990s, American Christians significantly influenced the emergent Russian Protestant churches. Both Russians and Westerners focused on planting new congregations, crusade evangelism, and establishing better theological education.

But today both Russian Protestants and missionaries from overseas are asking themselves: Are Russia's newest churches mature enough to stand on their own feet without outside help?

Igor Nikitin, a St. Petersburg pastor, describes the evangelical church as being in adolescence: adult in appearance but lacking in experience. Nikitin is president of the St. Petersburg-based Association of Christian Churches of Russia (ACCR), which represents Protestant evangelical churches.

New Russian congregations and their leaders sometimes go astray ethically. ...

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