For years, the church in Europe has been in decline. We speak of rising secularism, and the evidence is everywhere. Soaring cathedrals stand empty, with the buildings for sale. The German Spiegel Online reports:
Dwindling church attendance and dire financial straits are forcing the Catholic and Protestant Churches in Germany to sell off church buildings en masse. Some are demolished, while others are turned into restaurants or indoor rock climbing centers.
A cathedral in the Netherlands has been turned into a skateboard park. Others are becoming mosques.
While many Europeans claim to be Christians, in most cases that simply means they belong to the state church, not that they’re actual followers of Jesus. In fact, according to Operation World, only 2.5% of the over 732 million Europeans call themselves Evangelical. In some countries, Spain and France, for example, the number is even lower—a mere 1%!
Even the number of nominal Christians is declining. According to the Pew Research Center, “Europe’s Christian population is expected to drop by about 100 million people, falling from 553 million in 2010 to 454 million in 2050.”
At the same time, the number of Muslims is expected to increase by 63%. Other religions—Hindus, Buddhists, and others (but not Jews)—are also growing, as are those who claim no religion.
The future looks bleak for the European church. But God is doing a new thing in Europe, something unexpected and wonderful. The projected increase in Muslims is based on several factors, among them a high birth rate and immigration. It’s true that thousands of Muslims are arriving in Europe, refugees from ISIS and the wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. But in many cases, they’re not staying Muslim!
One aspect of the turmoil in the Mideast that is often left out of news accounts is that the majority of the attacks perpetuated by ISIS are against fellow Muslims. If you don’t agree with their radical agenda and particular brand of Islam, you are a target just as much as the “infidel” Christians and other non-Muslims. That is why so many of the refugees are Muslim.
As you might imagine, the result is a huge number of disaffected people. They see the atrocities being committed in the name of their religion, and they begin to question their beliefs. At the same time, many of the volunteers working among the refugees are believers demonstrating the love of God in very tangible ways.
Look what God is doing. Thousands of Muslim refugees are rejecting the faith of their past and embracing the God of love. They aren’t even waiting to be evangelized, but are taking the initiate and knocking on the doors of the churches, asking to know more about Jesus!
As ministries that work in Europe rethink their plans and strategies to accommodate this new move of the Holy Spirit, the new believers are already reaching out to their fellow refugees. Turks witness to Iranians. Iranians witness to Afghans. And those European Christians who have been struggling to follow Jesus in a dying church are being encouraged and strengthened.
We witness the bombings and other terrorist attacks, and consider the influx of refugees a problem—and it’s true that some of those coming to Europe have plans to cause mayhem and destruction in the name of Allah. But could this mass migration also be a tremendous blessing—the means by which God will revive the church in Europe? It certainly looks that way.