God’s New Society: Multicultural Churches in today’s Europe

front-pageThirty years ago, many Europeans saw multiculturalism—the embrace of an inclusive, diverse society—as an answer to Europe’s social problems. Today, a growing number consider it to be a cause of them.” (Kenan Malik)

The demise of multiculturalism is now taken as a given by many politicians and commentators. It is seen to have simultaneously failed the minority communities it was set out to support and fuelled nationalist movements in Europe which see migration as an existential threat. From Breivik to Brexit to Berlin’s Christmas Market massacre it is easy to point to multiculturalism as one of the root causes. Surely it is time to consign multiculturalism to the cemetery of failed political philosophies and to declare “Requiescat in pace”.

So the theme of this edition of Vista may raise some readers’ proverbial eyebrows. Yet it is precisely because multiculturalism has been given such a bad name recently that we may have been blinded to perhaps the greatest example of successful multiculturalism in Europe today: Europe’s churches.

Across the continent multicultural Christian communities are thriving and multiplying. They take many different forms, from congregations of ethnic minorities that are invited to use the premises of a local church, to multi-congregational churches where ethnic difference is celebrated and maintained through regular worship in a language and form that is familiar whilst preserving unity under a common leadership, to international churches in urban centres where members from many different cultures come together to worship in English since this is lingua franca which unites them.

Such is the diversity of types of multicultural church in today’s Europe that we decided the best approach would be through a series of case studies. As an introduction, Darrell Jackson sets out a framework classifying how Christian congregations engage with the issue of ethnic diversity. As you read the rest of this edition and reflect on your own situations we would encourage you to consider where they fit along Darrell’s continuum.

The first two case studies are of international churches. The first case is located in Karlsruhe (Germany) and describes the evolution of a traditional German congregation into an international one over the course of 15 years, setting out some of the lessons they have learned. The second case study is an example of an intentionally planted international congregation in the outskirts of Geneva and highlights some of the unique opportunities that such congregations possess.

Following that there are two articles which set out examples of multicultural church different collectives, the first for Romanians living in the UK, the second for Muslims. Chris Ducker’s article on the Romanian diaspora in the UK illustrates the widely differing degrees of engagement that a single cultural group may develop within a host culture. Ishak Ghatas, a church planter amongst Arabs in Brussels, considers four different models for multicultural churches that might engage Muslims. This edition of Vista concludes with a review of Hardy and Yarnell’s Forming Multicultural Partnerships, a passionate plea for churches in the UK to reflect the greater cultural diversity of 21st century Britain by becoming more intentionally multicultural, or as they put it: “Trinity-shaped multi-ethnic missional communities”.

A few months ago I had the privilege of visiting the Reformation Museum in Geneva. During the 1550s thousands of Protestant refugees from France, Italy, Spain and other parts of Europe, arrived in Calvin’s Geneva. In ten short years the population rose from 12,000 to 20,000. The “migrant crisis” of Calvin’s day posed a similar challenge to that we face today: how do we build God’s new society whilst recognising and celebrating ethnic and linguistic differences that give us a sense of uniqueness and belonging and are part of God’s creative plan for humanity?

At a time of resurgent nationalism this is a moment for the church to speak and act prophetically, to demonstrate that in Christ there is something, or rather someone, who can overcome racial and cultural differences. Let us not forget that the Christian telos is a multicultural one. The failure of multiculturalism is not the result of a mistaken objective but an inadequate basis on which to achieve it. And that is where the gospel comes in.
We hope you find this issue of Vista stimulating and would welcome your response and challenge on our blog: https://europeanmission.redcliffe.ac.uk/.
Jim Memory

1 Malik, K. “The Failure of Multiculturalism”, Foreign Affairs, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/western-europe/failure-multiculturalism (Accessed 22/12/2016)

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One Comment on “God’s New Society: Multicultural Churches in today’s Europe”

  1. Dave Says:

    Thanks for this. Our experience in the West Midlands has been. 1. A number of people prayed for some time that our church would increasingly reflect the ethnic diversity of the community around us. 2. Intentional outreach -rather than simply waiting for people to come in has seen people from a variety of backgrounds come and engage. Our Sunday congregations reflect a variety of nationalities and so do our midweek groups. We also provide ESOL classes. 3. 2.5 years ago we began to have contact with increasing numbers of South Americans. One church member was able to translate. They invited their friends and we adapted by providing head phone translation. 4. Our approach was already multi-congregational to make best use of space and to develop a planting/multiplication ethos. So when 2 years ago a Saturday evening Spanish language Bible study had started informally in a home and then outgrew it we were open to having a Saturday night congregation using Spanish as the primary language. however, we have been explicit from the start that we do not take a HUP approach -all our congregatinos are intentionally multi-cultural. Nueva Vida is based on language, it is not ethno-centric. This means we have seen English, Bulgarians, and Romanians among others joning regularly -some who speak Spanish (e.g. they lived in Spain before England) others benefit from translation in the same way that we translate on Sundays into Spanish. The Saturday night congregation have a vision for reaching others and so have evangelistic contact with Punjabis, Sudanese etc. We’ve also learnt that Spanish speaking nations are not homogenous so a group which includes Mexicans, Argentinians, Bolivians and Peruvians is itself multi-cultural brining its own blessings and challenges.

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