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Theme 3: Vox Pop

August 24, 2019

In what ways do you or your agency/church make a distinct contribution in outlining a vision or addressing a challenge for mission in Europe?

In answering this question, respondents demonstrated a wide range of approaches and contributions to mission in Europe. Some saw one of their key contributions as being an ability to draw people together, such as “a yearly conference gathering leaders from across the continent” (Daniel Costanza of PEF) or “a think tank of national leaders,” as reported by Raphael Anzenberger, whose organization already draws in leaders from 16 European countries who discuss mission strategy together (more information is at nc2p.org).

The European Evangelical Alliance’s Frank Hinkelmann explained how the EEA’s unique contribution was equipping national Evangelical Alliances and helping them “establish networks and special interest groups within their countries to reach out to their fellow countrymen.” Others echoed this emphasis on equipping people to work within their own culture – for example the European Baptist Foundation has empowered some 250 people to plant churches in their own culture, and the EBF’s role is to provide support for thisindigenous work. Approximately 15,000 new believers are reported to be the fruit of this initiative.

Others emphasized their role in creating partnerships – and were keen to stress the genuineness of such partnerships. John Gilberts of Greater Europe Mission described how they create church to church partnerships and, with 70 years’ experience, “have a unique role in effectively bringing US and Canadian churches together with some of the best on-the-ground ministries in Europe.” Key to this is GEM’s ability to “smooth intercultural issues and help both sides avoid the typical ‘bumps in the road’.” Representatives of migrant churches and diaspora movements also stressed the importance of relationships, specifically two-way and equal ones.

Samuel Cueva of the “Misión para el Tercer Milenio” Movement (MTM) explained their work to “develop two-way mission bridges for the fulfilment of God’s mission in all continents, and promotion of a theology of reciprocal mission collaboration.” This reciprocity was seen as essential and it was deemed necessary to be intentional about working towards it, as in the case of Latin American mission partners working with European mission partners in Europe, according to Cueva’s examples. With something of an outsider’s perspective on Europe, Jeff Carter also highlighted the importance of “filial respect” and “mutual support.”

Some specific examples were also given: Richard Bromley of ICS saw their distinct contribution as a “frontier agency” to be “always pushing… challenging the [Anglican] church to adapt and faithfully reach out to what is, not what was.” Dr Harvey Kwiyani, Programme Leader of MA African Christianity at Liverpool Hope University, explained how his focus is on providing cross-cultural training to diaspora Christians in the UK and across Europe. And Joke Haaijer of OneHope saw their distinctive as “activating churches for missions to children and youth.”

Overall, therefore, we see a wide range of contributions towards outlining a vision for mission in Europe, including facilitating, improving communication, equipping, partnering, challenging, training and mobilising.

Read more in Vista 33: Who speaks for Europe?

Theme 2: Opening the Floor

August 17, 2019

How can we make sure that these voices are heard? What kinds of platform can we provide for them to speak from?
Given our tentative identification in Theme 1 of some of the voices being marginalised or ignored within European mission today, the next step is obvious: how can we do more to help these voices be heard? This was widely acknowledged to be a “tricky question,” though a range of options were hopefully suggested. In terms of practical barriers preventing some from participating, Raphael Anzenberger noted that “the issue of English as a language is a huge one… unless there are strong mechanisms to ensure translation, no matter what the platform is, their voice won’t be heard.” Other church leaders emphasized the role of regional forums, and the importance of raising indigenous leaders from amongst the different nations and ethnicities.

A first step towards including marginalised voices will need to be positively affirming them, says Tony Peck of the European Baptist Federation, and deliberately ensuring that in any organised events, different voices (e.g. men’s and women’s) “are equally featured in the discussion of issues that concern us.” Other respondents also spoke of steps that need to be taken to create “intentional relationships” and to invite members of emerging mission movements into reciprocal collaborations. Interestingly, several respondents used the metaphor of inviting others to the/God’s table, and this is indeed a rich metaphor with powerful connotations.

The EEA’s Frank Hinkelmann rightly stressed the importance of two-directional openness, requiring “a changed mindset by the ‘old’ European churches as well as a willingness to interact with them by the ‘new’ (migrant) European churches.”

However, there were also two words of warnings, from different perspectives. Kent Anderson of ECM cautioned that discernment remains necessary when selecting or listening to alternative voices: “Not every young or ethnic voice has something important to say.” Those who have, however, should be quoted and promoted whenever possible by more mainstream leaders. The second word of warning comes from Usha Reifsnider of the Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World. Current leaders and influencers should try to be involved in the world of others, and “allow them to create platforms that are beyond your ability to imagine.” The very act of giving power or voice to another can, at times, remain an exercise in control if we remain the ones determining the platform or the terms of the debate.

What can be done to ensure the widest possible range of voices continue to be heard by the global evangelical community that supports mission in Europe?
Again, there was a wide range of suggestions and an acknowledgement that there may be no easy solutions. Perhaps the most popular suggestion was more gatherings where different voices can be heard, and dialogue entered into.

For Daniel Costanza of the Pentecostal European Fellowship, something like a three-yearly consultation involving key movements would be desirable. Similarly, Jeff Carter called for “more opportunities to provide venues and conferences to invite dialogue,” and Harvey Kwiyani identified the importance of having platforms where “we all engage one another as equals, helping one another see God in a new light and learning from one another.” In a similar vein, there were also pleas for mission gatherings to be characterised by even more sharing, openness and togetherness – for example, John Gilberts urged the formation of “new, non-denominational or cross-denominational gatherings” and that agencies and churches share European ‘superstars’ with high profile within their domain.

Tony Peck argued that the best way to ensure that the widest range of voices is heard, is by our having “a Gospel generosity that embraces healthy diversity as a gift and not a problem, and ensuring that all parts of the diverse evangelical family are included.”

From amongst the respondents for this research came several cris de coeur for Western Europeans or those representing traditional and established churches to learn from others: “Be prepared to learn from people who do not look, sound, teach, train and practise the way you always have,” implores Usha Reifsnider, who argues that since “the highest proportion of Christ followers are now from the Majority World and women, then theology and mission should follow suit.” Like Usha, Jeff Carter emphasizes the role of seminaries and mission training colleges across Europe, which he believes should be “teaching inclusive and embracing ministry… it’s a brand-new world, let’s listen to one another!”

A final way to ensure that evangelicals are listening to the widest possible range of voices, is to be a spiritually-aware people. As Richard Bromley of the Intercontinental Church Society notes, we need to be “generous in our listening and see what the Spirit is saying,” a point echoed by Samuel Cueva who calls the Church to recognise that, in Europe, “God is on the move, and He is doing something different.” Listening to God, and listening to marginalised or minority voices, should be twin priorities for the European church.

Read more in Vista 33: Who speaks for Europe?

Theme 1: Stop Talking and Listen for a Minute

August 10, 2019

Who are the dominant voices speaking for Europe within the churches or mission networks with which you are most familiar?
Not surprisingly, our respondents’ answers depended very much on their own context. Some interpreted “dominant” to mean – as we intended – rather too outspoken, powerful or vocal; whilst other respondents interpreted “dominant” to mean simply the leading voices or authorities.

So, in terms of dominant voices “speaking for Europe,” it is not surprising that respondents mentioned the Evangelical European Alliance (EEA) and the European Evangelical Mission Association (EEMA), as well as the Pentecostal European Fellowship and the Conference of European Churches as well as national evangelical alliances. Other movements mentioned included Hillsongs, Alpha, 3DM and networks of Baptist leaders. A large number of individual leading ‘voices’ were mentioned, too many to mention here but including Pete Greig, Jeff Fountain, Matthew Skirton, Karl Martin, Rich Robinson, Miriam Swafield, Sara Breuel and the Anglican Bishop in Europe, Robert Innes, alongside Vista’s own Jim Memory.

Significantly, representatives of migrant churches and movements offered a different perspective, and were more likely to identify dominant or dominating voices: Peruvian missiologist and London-based pastor Samuel Cueva noted that “dominant voices are still the western church” and that any movement towards polycentrism and reciprocity in European mission is “a very slow process.” Similarly, Usha Reifsnider of OCMS and the Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World notes Western dominance and, specifically, that greater “financial resources give the American Evangelical voice the most prominence” within Europe. A third perspective from within migrant or diaspora communities comes from Dr Harvey Kwiyani, who says that dominant voices are “mainly white Europeans” who, damningly, “more often than not, seem to have no real understanding of what current mission in Europe needs to do.”

A note of optimism, however, comes from Jeff Carter, who as a North American Baptist provides an outsider’s perspective on European mission. Jeff observes that “churches in the former Soviet-occupied territories have started to raise their voices and are being more respected in conversations” about evangelism and mission. So whilst it may be fair to say, as Raphael Anzenberger does, that dominant voices typically come from “English-speaking nations and Scandinavia,” the positive news is that other perspectives and other voices may increasingly be being heard.

Whose voices are marginalised and ignored in discussions about the health of the Church and mission in Europe?
This second question follows naturally from the first: since some voices dominate, we asked specifically about which voices are marginalised and/or ignored. Of course, we must acknowledge the paradox of asking about who we are unaware of – by definition it is difficult (if not impossible) to identify who’s in our blind spots! But some groups of people were identified as being marginalised, including women, migrants, young people and specific denominations or churches.

As the list of participants in this research itself demonstrates, female voices are outnumbered by male ones. As Tony Peck, General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation notes, “in some parts of Europe, women’s voices are marginalised and ignored, and their leadership gifts are suppressed.” Leaders of mission agencies shared this view: women’s voices are effectively marginalised because most church and mission leaders are male, points out Kent Anderson, British Director of ECM. And Greater Europe Mission’s John Gilberts mentioned several examples of young female leaders having an incredible impact in their communities but whose voices are not being heard in any discussions about mission in Europe.

The most common response to this question, however, was that migrants – those from outside of Europe – were being systematically ignored and marginalised. This was mentioned by all types of respondent, with the most enlightening responses coming, not surprisingly, from representatives of migrant and diaspora churches. Samuel Cueva suggests that diaspora mission leaders are not being heard – but one of the reasons for that is a lack of “involvement in critical reflection by [for example] Latin American leaders working in Europe.” Harvey Kwiyani argued that conversations are happening around diaspora missiology but that, regrettably, these are “taking place among diaspora people but draw little interest from local mission leaders.” Some of the most insightful comments came from Usha Reifsnider, who noted that majority world voices have more influence today than ever before – but still operate within a western paradigm and “continue to view their identity through the lens created by the West and reinforced through colonialism, postcolonialism and neocolonialism.” Usha concludes that non-Western voices not dependent on “the approval, resources and influence of Western theology” are ignored both by the West and the majority world.

Others thought to be marginalised within European mission include Pentecostals, Orthodox and Catholics, especially the youth movements and those involved in the revitalization of the Catholic Church, according to John Gilberts and others. Similarly, Cueva indicates that missionaries from independent churches and non-conventional missionaries, who may not be connected to a sending agency, are excluded from conversations about European mission. The final type of marginalisation mentioned was that based on ethnicity or another identity, including people from Eastern or South-Eastern Europe, and Roma.

Which of these marginalised voices do you think most urgently deserve to be heard?
Of course, all marginalised groups and voices deserve to be included and listened to. However, it may be that some voices need to be heard more urgently.

Amongst our respondents, there was widespread recognition of the fact that Christian migrants with a ministry in Europe deserve to be heard urgently. This is the argument of Frank Hinkelmann, writing on behalf of the EEA, who notes a collective failure to “invite and to include the migrant church to our national and European floor.” Jeff Carter concurs that “there needs to be a concerted effort to allow new migrant churches to the table for conversations” around evangelism and mission. Encouragingly, he reports “bright pinpoints of light in some countries that have deliberately invited them to the table and work side by side for the sake of the Gospel.”

Other respondents also added specific examples from within ethnic minorities and migrant churches. Mike Betts of NewFrontiers suggests we need to heed “those who have converted from Islamic nations… as we face increased multiculturalism in most European nations.” And Raphael Anzenberger argues we should be listening to voices from countries where there are significant evangelistic and missionary breakthroughs, such as Spain, France, Czechia and North Macedonia. Those working there evidently have much experience worth sharing.

Amongst the migrant church respondents, Samuel Cueva advocated for urgently listening to independent church leaders, specifically those who have emerged from non-conventional missions activity or diaspora mission; many of these will be Pentecostals or Charismatics. Usha Reifsnider stressed the importance of listening to those leading African, Latino and Asian mission initiatives in Europe that are pioneering outreach beyond their own ethnicities.

Other respondents argued that we should be most urgently listening to those leading youth movements across Europe; those working amongst disaffected Catholics; female leaders and missionaries; and, with great biblical precedent, listening to the voices of “widows and orphans,” and those working with and alongside them.

Read more in Vista 33: Who speaks for Europe?

Who speaks for Europe?

June 4, 2019

Who speaks fo rEuropeThe results of the May 2019 European Elections prompts the question ‘who speaks for Europe’ politically. Last month’s elections for the European Parliament saw victories for the far right in some countries but also big wins for the Greens. In France, Le Pen’s Rassemblement National topped the polls with 23% of the vote whereas in the Netherlands the party of Geert Wilders lost all its seats. ‘Polarisation’ and ‘fragmentation’ are two words being used to describe the political landscape within Europe.

So much for politics – what about the Church and mission in Europe? Are we equally polarised and fragmented in our views? Do we only listen to the voices that we agree with, or are we open to learning from those with whom we may disagree? And do we actively seek out the more unheard voices, those who do not automatically have a seat at the table for whatever reason, but who are just ‘getting on with it’ in their own way?

The question ‘who speaks for Europe’ caused much debate among the editorial team as we planned this issue. We hope that the themed articles may likewise prompt thought and debate among our readers.

We hope that by highlighting voices that are – and are not – being heard, we are encouraging awareness of the breadth of voices passionate about the Church and mission in Europe. May those with ears to hear, hear what the Spirit is saying to us today.

Read Vista 33 here

Jo Appleton, Chris Ducker, Jim Memory, Darrel Jackson, Evert Van de Poll


 

Demography is Destiny”: a Demographic Perspective on Secularisation

May 26, 2019

Download Vista 32 here

The famous maxim that “demography is destiny” may, or may not, be attributable to Auguste Comte, but it was certainly Comte who first wrote about how population trends and distributions could determine the future of a country.

In the social sciences, predictions about human behaviour are based on theories and models, which are often proved wrong over time. However, demography is the branch of social science where predictions are more reliable. This article explores the impact of demographic change on religious populations and how this could relate to the future of secularisation in Europe.

The Maxim of Secularisation: The Church in Europe is Dying
Another maxim, at least as far as the popular press is concerned, is that Christianity is dying in Europe, with Europe becoming more secular. A headline in this morning’s Spanish newspaper El País stated that “Spain is the third highest country in Europe for those abandoning Christianity.” They quoted a Pew Research Center report which compared a whole variety of religious metrics for Eastern and Western European countries, yet the author of the El País article concentrated on the difference between those who said they were raised Christian and those who confess Christian faith today.

Christian affiliationThese are sobering statistics, particularly for Western European countries (those in blue in the table). But secularisation is a complex phenomenon. The unique history and context of each country mean that neighbouring countries may be on different secularisation trajectories. A closer look at this table suggests that desecularisation is happening in many Central and Eastern European countries. And even in the same country, secularisation and desecularisation may be occurring simultaneously, depending on the measure you use.

A single arresting statistic to summarise a complex reality can be misleading. Many factors influence religious trends in Europe and this Pew report explores some of them, not least the link between Christian affiliation and national identity. Yet none are, in themselves, reliable predictors of future trends. The most reliable indicators of Europe’s religious future are demographic phenomena, specifically:

  • Europe’s ageing population;
  • Inward migration of religious populations from other parts of the world;
  • Differential birth-rates between populations.

The Greying of Europe
Low fertility rates, low mortality rates and increased life expectancy mean that Europe’s population is getting older. In all of the EU’s 28 member countries, the total fertility rate (the average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime) is below the level necessary to maintain that country’s population. And if current fertility rate trends continue in much of Central and Southern Europe, their population size will be cut by half in the space of two generations.

Fertiity rateThe 2018 Ageing Report from the European Commission suggests that the “old-age dependency ratio (the number of people aged 65 and above relative to those aged 15 to 64) in the EU is projected to increase by 21.6 percentage points, from 29.6% in 2016 to 51.2% in 2070.” This will have significant implications for Europe’s labour force and public spending, especially the provision of public pensions.

Immigration
This almost imperceptible demographic change is closely linked to another, more visible one: immigration. The need for skilled and unskilled workers to maintain Europe’s economic growth serves as a significant “pull factor” for migrants, especially as the native working population is in decline. Despite the stubborn resistance to immigration in many Central and Eastern European countries and the hardening of migration policy across the EU, European states face a stark reality. Without immigration many European countries will see a sharp population decline in the coming years. (European Environmental Agency, 2016).

Differential birth rates
Lastly, we should note the higher differential birth rates of migrants. Over the last 50 years, many religious people from the rest of the world have migrated to Europe. According to the recent Pew Research Center report Europe’s Growing Muslim Population (2017), nearly half of this growth is due to higher fertility rates relative to non-Muslims. The Muslim population of Europe today is around 5%, though that is predicted to grow to over 10% by 2050. Less noticeably, though no less significantly, many Christians from the Global South have migrated to Europe. These are less easy to quantify, and I have been unable to locate research on the differential birth-rates of Christian migrants, but very significant numbers of African, Latin American and Asian Christians can now be found in towns and cities across Europe.

Demographics and Secularisation
Sociologists of religion have frequently focussed on religion as a social phenomenon where the conscious choices of individuals in a given, if dynamic, context cause the rises and falls in religious adherence. The main non-social mechanism for religious change is demography, specifically migration and differential birth-rates. Where migration is low and fertility no different to that of the rest of the population, the non-social mechanisms are less important. However, when migration and differential birth-rates are significantly higher this can have a dramatic demographic effect.

Eric Kaufmann’s book Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? (2010) convincingly argued that the cumulative effect of migration from religious countries and higher fertility rates among those with religious faith will ultimately result in a reversal of the secularisation processes in Europe and the West. Rather than the rest of the world becoming more like Europe, Europe will become more like the rest of the world.

Recent Research on Religion and Fertility
Fertility and migrationInterest in the link between religion and fertility has increased remarkably in the last twenty years. An online Religion and Fertility Bibliography now runs to more than 700 books and articles. The societal consequences that sustained low fertility levels are having across a whole range of issues is explored at length in Poston (ed., 2018) Low Fertility Regimes and Demographic and Societal Change. The final chapter in Poston’s book deals with Religion and Fertility.

In it, Ellison et al investigate the effects of fertility changes on religiosity making use of four responses from the World Values Survey data in a very similar way to our own Nova Index of Secularisation in Europe (NISE) as described in the October 2010 issue of Vista. Their four measures were attendance at religious services, religious salience (the importance of religion in a respondent’s life), religious belief (specifically whether they believe in God or not) and private religiosity (measured by frequency of prayer). Multi-level regression analysis was then conducted on two independent variables, namely individual fertility (as recorded in their WVS response to the number of children they had), and country level fertility using Total Fertility Rate.

The results were clear: “both the individual level and country level fertility variables are significantly associated with all individual level religious variables in the anticipated directions” (p.223), that is to say, less religious people demonstrate lower fertility. Nothing surprising there. Where Ellison et al break new ground is in their reversal of the traditional causal relationship. Normally it is argued that as people become less religious, they have fewer children but these researchers suggest the inverse: declining fertility is what is leading to reductions in religious participation, salience and belief. In conclusion, they suggest “at least tentative evidence that the connections between religion and fertility may be bidirectional” (p.228).

Missiological Implications for Europe
These, and other, trends lead us to identify four key missiological implications for European mission:

The Greying of Mission. If half the European population will be over 65 by 2070 this will require a complete rethinking of mission priorities. Care for the elderly will become one of the principal activities of Christian mission.

The future of Islam in Europe. It is clear from recent migration and differential birth-rates that the number of Muslims in Europe will continue to rise. This poses a significant challenge for secular European societies but also for the church. Churches everywhere will need to help their congregations to engage in dialogue and outreach to their Muslim neighbours. They must also resist the rhetoric of populists and nationalists who would seek to legitimise racism through “defending our Christian identity.”

Migration and the future of the European Church. Slow, gentle and silent demographic effects can have a profound impact over the long-term. The arrival of millions of Christian migrants from the rest of the world has been largely ignored yet these “new Europeans” are renewing and changing the face of Europe’s churches. Their passion, vibrant spirituality and confidence in the agency and power of God are no less of a challenge to secular Europe than Islam. If European churches and migrant churches can learn to work and witness together this can have a powerful testimony in tomorrow’s Europe.

“Go Forth and Multiply”. Rodney Stark (1996) has shown how the favourable fertility and mortality rates of the early Christians relative to the pagan population helped to fuel a 40% growth rate over several centuries. Could this happen again? If Ellison et al are right, then an increase in the religious population in Europe will require an increase in fertility rates among European Christians. Perhaps one of the most radical things that young Christians can do today is to get married and have a (large) family.

Secularisation is not the “telos” of history. Predictions of the demise of Christianity in Europe don’t take into account the promise that Jesus made to Peter that “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

The destiny of the church depends on more than demographics but we must not ignore the insights that demography provides to the future of Christian mission in Europe.

Jim Memory

References
Ellison, et al in Poston (2018) Low Fertility Regimes and Demographic and Societal Change, Cham: Springer.
European Commission (2018) The 2018 Ageing Report, https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/economy-finance/2018-ageing-report-economic-and-budgetary-projections-eu-member-states-2016-2070_en
European Environmental Agency (2016) https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/total-population-outlook-from-unstat-3/assessment-1
Kaufmann (2010) Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, London: Profile.
Pew Research Center (2017) Europe’s Growing Muslim Population, http://www.pewforum.org/2017/11/29/europes-growing-muslim-population.
Pew Research Center (2018) Eastern and Western Europeans Differ on Importance of Religion, Views of Minorities, and Key Social Issues, http://www.pewforum.org/2018/10/29/eastern-and-western-europeans-differ-on-importance-of-religion-views-of-minorities-and-key-social-issues.
Stark (1996) The Rise of Christianity, Princeton: Princeton University Press.