Sunday, February 04, 2007

Adventism in Europe.

The Danish Union of (Adventist) Churches announced Feb. 1. that, due to financial problems, it had fired two of its ministers and was retiring a further four ministers in the summer.* The Union also announced this will mean that some congregations will not be appointed a minister. The Unions financial problems are due to falling church membership and tithe income.

Membership in the Danish Adventist church has been falling for many years, and stands today at 60% of its 1960's level. The church has already been through several financial crises and has cut back its activities and and institutions in the last 15 years. With one controversial church plant as an exception, all Adventist churches in Denmark fit into what church growth theorists call ‘dying churches’, i.e. churches long past their growth or plateau phases. So while Denmark was one of the first countries in Europe in which the Adventist church had a presence, it might be just the first one in which the church disappears.

The really sad thing is that Denmark is not an exception in this part of the world. Although the Adventist church in Europe is growing numerically (with the exception of Scandinavia), this growth is based on immigration or through evangelistic efforts amongst immigrant groups. In Germany the church has numerous Yugoslavians and other Eastern European members. In Spain growth is fueled by immigration from Romania, while In the Netherlands its from West Indian and African immigration. In Britain the church is almost entirely made up of members with West Indian, African, Eastern European or Asian backgrounds. Without immigration the decline in membership in these countries would have been more rapid than in Denmark.

Is all this a problem? Not if church membership is the parameter on which we evaluate the work of the church and if we don’t mind simply being a cultural phenomenon. Migration to Western Europe is likely to continue in large numbers and will continue to boost the church's membership. But if, on the other hand, we believe the church has a calling to reach all nations and peoples, then the church is failing the hundreds of millions people living in Western Europe who are not recent immigrants or decendents thereof.

I don't have a single answer of what do with this problem. I do, however, believe in the power of the gospel. That telling the story of Jesus will affect and change the lives of those hearing it, even secular Europeans.

To tell the story of Jesus effectively, I believe we must face the challenge of breaking out from the cultural norms that surrounds our form of christianity. We must be able to speak to people who do not accept the bible as normative or authoritative. In doing this we cannot get by with mediocre teaching and unsound biblical exegesis. If we can approach the bible without our presupposition and cultural baggage, then in there, I believe, is a powerful message relevant to all people, nations and tongues.

*The official announcement can be read (in Danish) on, or click here.

1 comment:

  1. This is a fascinating post! I am Australian, have been an Adventist for 7 years now, and have heard little about the European church apart from Jon Paulien's articles on postmodernism in which he comments that 90% of the English church are immigrants (as I recall). While the church here has more Aussie "natives", it is not exactly thriving, as it has barely grown since about 1980. I encourage you to add detail if needed and submit it as an article to Adventist World or Spectrum. Colin