Post-Christian. Secular. A prodigal continent. These are some of the words often used to describe Christianity in Europe.
“Renewed spiritual hunger, new stirring of prayer, fresh expressions of the church, [and] migrant churches restoring faith” are signs of hope in our continent today, writes former Europe YWAM director Jeff Fountain.
Could it be that, in the midst of this spiritual desert, God might be springing new streams of living waters, or even seeds for revival?
It would certainly not be the first time that God changes the narrative of a continent.
Only decades ago, Protestants described Latin America as a mission field. Today, it's become a mission force, and the Brazilian church sends the second most missionaries in the world. In 1900, Africa was home to about nine million Christians. Who could ever have imagined that by the 2020s there would be half a billion Christians on the continent?
But the missional challenges for Christians in Europe are overwhelming.
“Europe is one of the toughest regions in the world in which to bear witness to Christ. The combination of the three-headed monster of secularism, pluralism and materialism make Christian witness difficult across the Continent,” says Lindsay Brown, former general secretary of IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students).
The old continent has a complex and unique history with the Christian faith.
“No other continent has been exposed to Christianity for such a prolonged period and in such an extensive way,” wrote Jim Memory, the Lausanne Europe co-regional director, in the Europe 2021 Missiological Report. “Yet just as Europe was the first continent to be Christianized, it was also the first to be de-Christianized.” As Fountain points out, the continent has been fundamentally shaped by the gospel, “but paradoxically, also by its rejection.”
As a 12-year missionary and church planter in Rome, I’ve seen these realities firsthand.
After being raised in Latin America and educated in North America, when I moved to Europe and started to share my faith with people around me, it was clear I faced a new level of skepticism. There seemed to be a cloud of unbelief and pessimism, and an underlying assumption that God is not real.
Even so, in our day, “an extraordinary re-evangelisation of Europe is taking place,” wrote Memory in his report. Here are five ways we are seeing God move throughout the continent.
1. Diaspora churches
The missional paradigm shift described by Samuel Escobar—“from the West to the Rest” to “from everywhere to everyone”—is perhaps more evident in Europe than anywhere else in the world.
As the 2021 missiological report explains:
Latin-American migrants have planted thousands of churches in Spain, Portugal and beyond over the last thirty years. It is difficult to find a major European city that does not have a large Spanish speaking and/or Brazilian congregation. Similarly, Chinese churches can be found almost everywhere. African-initiated Pentecostal churches number in the thousands in Britain alone.
The contribution of migrant churches to the evangelization of Europeans was also a central theme in Lausanne Europe’s 2021 gathering, which equipped native-born Europeans to be more intentional in helping diaspora Christians reach the local populations and migrant leaders to contextualize so they can be more effective in reaching Europeans, beyond people of their own nationalities.
2. Church planting
Church planting has been also accelerating in Europe through various networks, denominations, and mission agencies. In France, for example, the National Council of French Evangelicals (CNEF) has set a goal of establishing evangelical church for every 10,000 people. The church planting movement in France saw, on average, one church be planted every seven days or so over the last few years.
“We want to move the church in Europe from decline and plateauing into growth,” said Øystein Gjerme, leader of M4 Europe, a movement with a vision to see one church planted every day in Europe. Last year, Exponential Europe, a vibrant church planting movement working in partnership with other key church planting networks like City to City and established mission agencies like Greater Europe Mission, hosted round tables of church planters in 30 different countries.
3. The prayer movement
The late revival historian J. Edwin Orr said that “whenever God is ready to do something new with his people, he always sets them to praying.”
For the last two decades, the 24/7 prayer movement has seen the birth of 22,000 prayer rooms in 78 nations, the majority of them in Europe.
The beginning of this movement traces back to when its founder, Pete Greig, had a powerful experience. Around two decades ago, Greig, then a recent university graduate, was praying for the nations of Europe one night while walking on the cliffs of Cape St. Vincent, Portugal. In the midst of his intercession, he writes in Red Moon Rising, he had a vision of young Europeans moving, “a mysterious, faceless army silently awaiting for orders.”’ The imagery reminded him of Ezekiel 37. “You see bones? I see an army,” he wrote in a poem that later went viral.
One house of prayer in Augsburg, Germany, has had continuous prayer, day and night, for 11 years, or 110,000 hours.
4. Increased Christian unity
The war in Ukraine has fostered unprecedented collaboration between mission agencies. The Christian Ukraine Collaboration brought together leaders of various organizations, some who have never met before, “to handle the complexity and scope of this massive humanitarian crisis,” writes Matthew Pascall. Networks like the European Leadership Forum, the European Evangelical Alliance, and the Lausanne Movement have strengthened unity and collaboration.
In charismatic circles, a historic coalition of 29 denominations and mission agencies in Norway brought together 9,000 young people, the largest Christian cross-denominational gathering in over 20 years, for The Send Norway. In the past decade, other charismatic ministries like Awakening Europe have also filled stadiums in the Netherlands, Austria, and Sweden, bringing together several local churches and Christian organizations.
5. The next generation
This May, 13,000 teens and young adults from all over Germany came together for Christival, a conference organized by a nondenominational network with historical roots in the Jesus Movement. Initiatives like these lead me to believe that God is raising a new generation of Europeans longing for authentic encounters with Jesus.
“We see an emerging generation arising that is not ashamed of the gospel. It is like a small cloud in the horizon, like Elijah saw before the rain in I King 18,” said Andreas Nordli, the director of The Send Norway.
I was personally surprised to see the hunger among university students in Europe for a fresh move of God. In 2019, Revive Europe, the movement I have the privilege of leading, brought together 3,000 university students from 68 nations to pray for a revival among their peers. Students continue to lift up this desire to God through weekly prayer meetings in Berlin and gatherings with up to 400 students in Belfast. In recent months, we’ve been inspired by seeing Croatian students attend packed Alpha courses in Zagreb and baptize eight of their friends.
“The new generation seemed to be more aware of the emptiness of a purely materialistic lifestyle,” said Luke Greenwood, the European director of Steiger, a young-people-focused missions ministry. “They are increasingly open to spiritual conversations, prayer, and especially looking for a community to belong to.’’
We see in Scripture again and again that in the darkest of times, when the people of God turn to him with all their hearts, God hears their prayers. Might God have a revival in store for the continent?
“I do think that Europe is ready for a revival. A breath of fresh air in tired lungs,” says the newly appointed general secretary of the European Evangelical Alliance, Connie Duarte. “Young European Christians are joining together for prayer and asking the Holy Spirit to wake up Europeans and remind them of their spiritual heritage.’’
Tim Keller notes that when revival happens, “sleepy Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted and hard to reach get dramatically brought to faith.’’ This is very much needed in Europe. J. I. Packer goes as far to say that “without revival in the church, there is really no hope for the Western world at all.’’
Even if some long for revival, many times European leaders are understandably skeptical when hearing stories of God moving or reading similar reflections of a possible new movement of God in Europe. Indeed, the topic of revival has been discussed for years, but we have not yet seen the kind of move some have been hoping for.
And yet, in Genesis 18, Sarah laughs at the entrance of the tent when listening to three visitors tell she would give birth to a son within a year. Last year, French evangelist Raphael Anzenberger reminded the attendees at the Lausanne Europe Gathering of this story, for this can often be our posture when hearing of the possibility of God breathing new life in this old continent.
Could it be that post-Christian will not be Europe’s final word? If some say that Christianity in some parts of Europe seems to be dead, well, we happen to serve a God who is the resurrection business.
As Lindsay Brown, the former international director of the Lausanne Movement, puts it, “Across the continent we see lights flickering in the darkness through many wonderful ministries. Please pray with us that God, through the Holy Spirit, would fan these flickering lights into the flame of revival.”
Sarah Breuel is the director of Revive Europe and serves on the board of directors of the Lausanne Movement.