I want to do a few posts, now that I am getting back to some degree of health, about what I learned by spending a week in Spain as it applies to ministry in the US. Western Europe is post-Christian, maybe better stated post-christendom. People do not view the church as important or necessary, and because their lives are generally taken care of by the government, they have no real pressing needs. One of the people we hung out with made the comment, “Spaniards work to live. Americans live to work.” The desire for more isn’t as strong as in the US. They actually answer the question, how much is enough?
Despite the fact that cities spend millions of dollars on building and maintaining churches, they are mainly empty on the weekends. This is becoming the norm in America. The missionaries in Western Europe spend more time plowing the ground than reaping. The ground is hard from centuries not spent preparing the soil and planting the seed evangelistically. They have difficult work. They told of how confrontational evangelism, ie. the Way of the Master, or CWT, or EE or the 4 Spiritual Laws, would not work in Western Europe. People will not engage you in those conversations. Guilt doesn’t work either. As a side note, I find it interesting that Jesus never used this type of evangelism. The missionaries I talked with noted that as well.
The church harvesting and planting movements of the East do not happen in Western Europe. And it’s hard for the missionaries to come home to the traditional churches and share that, because people don’t understand why they can’t be starting 10,000 churches a month like those missionaries in Asia.
What I was told worked was relationships. Long-term relationships, being there when crisis hits, just being a friend, was the most effective method of evangelism for these missionaries. Now hop a plane across the pond…
In Delaware, the same things are evident. People are busy and despite the many needs they do have, don’t really recognize them. We are not seeing large numbers of people coming to Christ. It is more like a Northeast culture than a Mid-Atlantic culture. If you are an outsider, it takes a long time to get integrated into the community. Confrontational, guilt-oriented evangelism does not work here either. The way that I have been able to express the Gospel in a way that people hear it is through sustained relationships and through blessing other people. What I see happening in Europe I see already in parts of the US. And in 10-15 years, I have to believe it will be widespread throughout the country.
This will mean reframing our evangelistic conversations. It will me engaging the culture relationally through already established groups and organizations. It will mean that we may have to deconstruct our understanding of how to understand and express the gospel in a world that will be at best ambivalent to it. This means we will have to see people as people, not as numbers or projects. It will also mean we have to redefine success.
This will be difficult for the SBC, and for many of its churches. We might consider preparing our people for it now.
PS…to my new friends in Western Europe, please let me know if I get any of this wrong!‚ I would hate to have misunderstood my experience…