Does Europe Need Missionaries?

does europe need missionaries
The majority of Europeans identify with the Christian faith. So why is there a need for missionaries there? Photo by TEAM.

When you think of mission work, what comes to mind probably isn’t someone in France discussing theology with a neighbor over cappuccinos. But the reality is, Europe critically needs more Christian missionaries to make disciples.

There are several reasons we leave Europe off the map when we think of spreading the gospel “to the ends of the earth.” The most glaring one being that the gospel has already been spread there.

In the New Testament, we read about the gospel’s early adoption in Europe through Paul’s letters to the church in modern-day Greece, Italy and Turkey. Marble statues, massive cathedrals and stained glass windows stand as monuments to a fully-Christianized continent.

But today, those cathedral halls are filled more often by tourists than parishioners.

As gospel devotion dwindles, there is a need for more missionaries to partner with the remaining church in Europe.

Many Christian Traditions But Few Disciples

According to Operation World, most Europeans identify with the Christian tradition (71.4%), but only a marginal number consider themselves to be evangelical Christians (2.5%). The majority of European Christians practice Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

Despite the Christianized culture, missionaries say the practice of faith for most Europeans is a matter of public ritual, not private devotion.

“People would say they’re Orthodox,” says Amanda Keeney, a TEAM worker in Ukraine, “but when you ask them what that means to them, they often answer that they attend church on Easter and that they were baptized as a child, and that’s it.

“They don’t see their need to be saved and often account for good works as enough to get to heaven.”

Outside of corporate traditions, workers say it is uncommon for Europeans to interact with Scripture.

“Most Italians have never personally read the Bible,” says Steve Thompson, a long-term worker in Italy. “It has been discouraged for centuries by the traditional church, and so for them, it is a closed book.”  

The role of the missionary, then, is to invite Europeans into a world previously closed to them.

“People here need to know Jesus as he really is from what he really did and said, not secondhand from traditions that most people don’t understand,” Amanda says. “They need to see how we don’t need to live in fear of God because of our deeds. But in Christ, we can draw near to God and know him.”

To learn more about how the church played a critical role in forming Europe’s identity, read this report written by a TEAM missions coach.

Rising Religious Apathy

Europeans are increasingly rejecting faith altogether. According to the Pew Research Center, 18 percent of all Europeans are atheists, agnostics or do not identify with a particular religion at all. This number is predicted to grow.

Jennifer Hylton’s experience as a missionary in France echoes this statistic: “I’ve met a lot of non-Christians who believe that either religion is the biggest problem of the world and the best solution is for everyone to abandon religion, or those who believe simply that there is no God.”

She says one of the biggest roadblocks she faces in ministry is a general belief that we don’t need a savior. “This mindset often leaves people disinterested in discussing the gospel because with no need for a savior, what’s the point in discussing sin or anything else?”

Overcoming this apathy is not formulaic or fast. Becky Rogerson, a TEAM worker in Italy says indifference is softened through relationship. “As people see genuine love and get to see how we handle hardships, they are more likely to want to know what makes the difference.”

Too Few Evangelical Churches

Despite these cultural realities, the evangelical church is growing in Europe, but there are too few churches to serve the region.

“Everywhere I have gone across France, I have met believers who travel an hour or more to get to the nearest protestant evangelical church on Sundays,” Jennifer says.

number of churches in France

In Italy, TEAM worker Tommy Annest reports there is only one evangelical church for every 50,000 people. “There are thousands of cities, towns and smaller municipalities in Italy that, as far as we know, have no active body witnessing to the gospel.”

Church planting ministries around the continent are committed to changing these statistics.

We desperately need more people to be willing to live in these communities, share the gospel, disciple young believers …  and equip the [Christians] here in France to lead their churches,” Jennifer says.

Ultimately, workers like Steve Thompson in Italy hope to equip more national leaders to evangelize and lead church planting efforts.

“We’re committed to this,” Steve Thompson says, “but we need more full-time workers to help.”


Are you exploring what life on the mission field could look like for you? Download your complete guide to church ministries at TEAM to learn about opportunities to serve, get insights from current missionaries, and discover how to get started on your missionary journey.

 

 

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About the author

Katie Back Salmon
Katie Back Salmon

Katie Back Salmon is the former digital communications coordinator at TEAM. Katie came to TEAM from the University of Georgia with a background in marketing and entrepreneurship. She is passionate about good conversations and good community and enjoys them online or offline. When she's not on the internet, you can find her exploring Knoxville with her husband, Brennen.

5 Comments

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  • Thank you for this article. My son is a TEAM missionary in France, and is actually in charge of planning the vision trip to France! Our hearts are with the few Christians in France.

  • Jenifer says “one of the biggest roadblocks she faces in ministry is a general belief that we don’t need a savior.” – I think she is right.

    It is a key question in evangelism and deserves and answer. If TEAM wish to reach people with the gospel they need to have an answer to this that is credible. Am I a sinner because I sin or do I sin because I am a sinner. If I am already a sinner, why is that?

    I think this question is skipped over by many missions and evangelists, or avoided, but it is central to the need for a saviour. It concerns the fall, the curse, Adam, Biblical authority etc.

    How is it with TEAM – do you skip over these things too?

    If not, how do you see the mission field in Scandinavia?

    • Hello, Mike. Thanks for this comment. You’re certainly right to assert that addressing the problem of sin is central to evangelism. At TEAM we recognize the role of original sin as separating us from God, and our workers communicate this truth along with the hope of the gospel to those who have yet to believe. For a more detailed look at TEAM’s beliefs, you can view our statement of faith here: https://team.org/about/our-mission/statement-of-faith

  • Thanks for this article! My wife and I spent 13 months in Vienna, Austria, with Surge International and our experience was exactly what you’re writing about here. There are centuries of Church history in Europe, a lot of which has been a downward slope into a generation who doesn’t even know God and has unbiblical, twisted beliefs about Jesus Christ. It’s a very hard culture, but the people are worth it. Thanks for your work!

  • Have spent almost 27 years in a large Romanian village.It took almost the first 14 years to get a testimony there. After that things were some easier to spread the Gospel.We used to pray Romania would get the Gospel before they got the goods,but in many cases it didnt happen. I could write a book on this.Maybe I will.

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