“There was much joy in that city” (Acts 8:8). This is what the book of Acts says about the city of Samaria after receiving the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Good News brings joy in the midst of suffering and spiritual warfare. This is also what happened in Rome on May 28th on the occasion of Tim Keller’s visit. We have experienced a glimpse of Gospel joy.
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.
In 2005, two young Germans, Christian Nowatzky and Konstantin von Abendroth, finished serving apprenticeships at Redeemer in New York and a related church in Toronto, respectively. They moved into Berlin with great hopes and a vision to plant a highly contextualized, gospel-driven church in the heart of the city. Starting with a core group of nine people, Berlinprojekt started worship ten months later with 70 people. Eight years later they regularly have 600 people in attendance in two Sunday services and are anticipating starting a third to allow for more growth. Early on they were able to send Daniel Bartz to Hamburg where he has planted a fast-growing church, now planting its first daughter church in that city. But even as Berlinprojekt has grown in Berlin, they have helped plant three other churches in the city.
The most recent of those new churches is Projekt: Kirche in the Friedrichshain neighborhood of former East Berlin. Last year in fall 2012, Alex Deuscher, having finished an internship at Berlinprojekt, came to City to City’s International Intensive Training in New York City. After spending this past year developing a core group and building relationships in the neighborhood, the church launched its first public service on September 15 with 60 people. Until the end of the year, they will have public worship services every 2-3 weeks in different locations, at different times, with different styles, which has already proven to be a great way to invite friends and ask for their feedback, but also created some new relationships with their neighborhood. “It has been amazing to see the amount of dedication and determination members of our team put into the brainstorming phase and ‘making it real,’” Alex said.
Some have drawn parallels between Berlin and first century Ephesus to describe what the Lord has been doing through Berlin in other cities of Germany. New churches in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Potsdam and Munich have been and are being planted largely because of the inspiration of what is happening in Berlin. Stephan Pues, Alex’s classmate at the 2012 International Intensive, is planting a new, gospel-driven church in Frankfurt. On September 1, 2013, Nordstern. Kirche launched bi-weekly public services at the Hotel Villa Orange in the center of the city. He has also become a crucial part of a newly formed German-speaking network called City To City Deutschland.
That network is expanding beyond Germany’s borders into other German-speaking cities in Europe. In the near future a new plant will start in Vienna, Austria. And most recently Leo Dietschy from Basel, Switzerland, has come to participate in the 2013 International Intensive training. Through his friendship with Alex Deuscher, he connected with the network at City to City Europe’s April meeting in Prague. When he returns to Basel he will develop a core group and plans to launch in fall 2014. He hopes many more churches will be planted in Switzerland as a result of his effort in Basel.
The churches in the network hope to help plant churches in every leading city of Germany and see a movement of the gospel in the cities of their region of Europe.
1) What is the East of Scotland Gospel Partnership and what is its mission?
About 5 years ago a number of ministers from Edinburgh travelled separately to the Urban Plant Life Conferences in London to hear Tim Keller speaking on church planting. On their return to Edinburgh they came together to form a church planting movement called the East of Scotland Gospel Partnership. Our aim is to plant churches that will plant churches in order to multiply the number of gospel churches in the city and surrounding regions. We want to lift the name of Jesus high.
2) How many churches have been planted and how many are in the planning stages?
So far there have been seven church plants associated with the Partnership and there are three more in the early stages of being planted and several more at the planning stage. Our biggest challenge is finding and recruiting young men with the passion, skills and character to plant churches.
3) How would you say being part of the CTCE network has helped you with your plant and personally?
Being part of CTCE has helped us to form a vision for our city and the possibilities for the gospel there. It has introduced us to church planters from across Europe who have encouraged us, shared their hearts with us, prayed with us and fed us with some wonderful ideas. Through CTCE we have been able to access specialised, well developed training for urban church planters, and now we have begun using material from CTC to recently launch our own training programme in Edinburgh. Al Barth has also been pivotal in supporting me to get going with a new church plant in the Morningside area of Edinburgh, helping me to think through the planting process and find resources to make the plant happen.
4) Anything else you want to add about Edinburgh?
Edinburgh is a beautiful city with a rich Christian history but a poverty of gospel churches. But for everyone involved in our partnership there is a strong sense that we are on the verge of something new and exciting and that God is working to bring a new era of gospel life to our city.