Towards the end of 2013, I spent a couple of days near Brno in the Czech Republic, observing a training process for teams of church planters from the Czech Republic, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia. There were also some observers from Spain, Germany and Sweden together with a large group of coaches (mostly young people) from Norway. An amazing mix!
Something important was going on here. It might not be too easy to capture what I was witnessing in cold print but here is an attempt.
First, it has been a very long time since that kind of energy around church planting has been seen in that land. More than just joy over something positive happening, this was church planting related to genuine mission and not just to sectarian expansion. The teams came from many denominations, they were working together, encouraging each other and they were focussed on winning those with no religious/ Christian conviction, not on proselytizing people from other churches. Wonderful!
Some had stories of encouraging breakthroughs – a school in one town where around half of the students in some classes are now Christians. These kinds of things normally don’t happen in the avowedly secular Czech Republic.
Something of the same energy was flowing in the groups from other nations too. To a certain extent the enthusiasm was engendered by the fervour coming from the young Norwegian coaches. There is a remarkable change beginning to take place in Norway – not unfamiliar to those of us in the UK.
The polite secular humanism tinged with God which has passed for Christianity over many years, is giving way to a new mainstream – creedal Christianity – that has the capacity to convert others.
The Norwegian church is beginning to engage in mission and so are winning people of all ages to active, dynamic faith. New churches are being planted in growing numbers as an overflow of this activity. There will be a church planting conference in March 2014 in Norway with a likely attendance of 1,000 people. (Adjusting for population differences the UK equivalent would be close to 10,000 people – around 2,000 people for the Netherlands).
In one way these are small beginnings but in another way they are revolutionary in their impact. Its worth remembering that until very recently (last year?) no one imagined that the church had a real future, that it could grow, that young people could be converted or that new churches could be planted, let alone grow fast. So the advent of such activity is remarkable.
The eventual impact of movements with small beginnings is something that is now more mature in my homeland – England (not yet the whole of the UK). The process has been happening for longer than in most European lands and it may give a pointer to what can take place.
I want to describe one such situation which began when three couples left their home church with the intention of planning a church in another city. This took place around 20 years ago. They chose a socially deprived area and eventually joined forces with another small church that already existed in the neighbourhood they wanted to reach. The social deprivation they witnessed was manifested in the failure of kids at school, high unemployment, broken families, crime and drug abuse. These were neighbourhoods that people wanted to leave. The children’s workers could not find a single home where both biological parents were present and it looked as though it had been that way for at least three generations.
Their primary outreach tool was a children’s club inspired by the model that Bill Wilson had used in New York. They recruited around 50 workers who raised their own support and started contacting hundreds, and eventually thousands of kids. At its peak this work was touching the lives of around 5,000 children and young people and the church grew on the back of this work.
And something else happened too. The young people they reached started to achieve at school and their changed aspirations led them to become employed and to seek stable relationships of fidelity that would lead to marriage. Eventually the city authorities noticed that something was taking place in this area and came to talk to the church. The city council noted that they had poured many millions of Pounds sterling into this neighbourhood in an attempt to bring change but acknowledged that these initiatives had failed. They had commented that the church had succeeded in rewriting the social history of a significant section of that particular city.
That is why the church planting teams described at the start of this article are so important and why they need to be replicated many thousands of times over. Church plants tend to be the places that produce church planters so even these small beginnings are hopeful. To echo Luke 10, the harvest is ready, the workers are still few in number. We pray that the Lord of the harvest will raise up yet more workers.
This post originally appeared on Together in Mission, republished here with permission.