Let's Get Real!!

March 12, 2001

Great news!! I read the following headline in a Dutch Christian paper this week: “Europe is still the most Christian continent”! Statisticians David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson (a fellow YWAMer) had come to this conclusion from their research in an office somewhere in America.

Isn’t that wonderful?

This is the best news I’ve heard since the fall of the Wall. All our concerns about Europe have been falsely based!

We’ve been fooled by all those empty church pews. What we thought was a mass exodus from traditional churches both east and west must have been people rushing off to the mission field! We’ve been misled by stories of a post-modern generation of disillusioned, cynical, non-churched European youth, despairing of meaning and purpose in life. Reports of growing urban ghettos of migrant children with no Christian roots in our European cities must have been a misunderstanding. All those former communists in eastern Europe have apparently made their way back to the fold of the Orthodox Church, and have stopped dreaming of the ‘good, old days’ under Marxism. We can be comforted that trends towards legalised euthanasia, same-sex marriage and abortion – led by Christian Holland(!) – are offset by the knowledge that, well, after all, ‘Europe is still the most Christian continent’.

All this time we have been grovelling in self-pity, thinking we were just a small faithful minority, like Elijah, unaware of the 7000 faithful in the land. But Messrs. Barrett and Johnson have now come with the wonderful news that there are 537 million of us, more than in Latin America (483 million) and Africa (344 million) or Asia (314 million)! Hallelujah!

But … where are they all? I have visited all but three European countries and have not discovered large Christian populations. Perhaps they are all hiding out in those three small lands: Moldova, Georgia and Armenia. Hmmm, that would be pretty crowded.

Or … could it be that the definitions being used are so broad and all-encompassing – counting anyone who has ever seen a church building or can draw a cross – that such figures are totally useless? I suspect that these definitions would include the good Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croatians who were tried in recent weeks in the UN Court at The Hague for multiple rape, genocide and other war-crimes. I’ve seen a lot of crosses drawn on walls in Bosnia staking out Serbian territory. And woe the Bosniac Moslem or Catholic Croat who strayed across the line!

No, David and Todd, I’m not yet ready to rejoice over your good news.

Rather, I’m reminded of the much-trumpeted world map showing the current state of world evangelisation which appeared a couple of years ago from somewhere over the western horizon. It was advertised as the ‘most historic and strategic map’ ever produced. So I ordered ten of them. When they arrived, I eagerly pulled the maps out of the carton mailing tube, unrolled them and zoomed in on Europe. What did I discover? More good news! Belgium was already evangelised! and half of France! Wales too, but not England or Holland… I promptly emailed Jan Piet de Visser of YWAM Brussels to tell him the good news that his job was done, and that he should come back to Holland and help us here. (I’ll tell you his reply if you ask me in private.)

It’s enough to drive anyone to strong drink, or strong language – or both. (Sensitive readers can skip the next sentence). Which reminds me of Mark Twain’s famous quote about there being three sorts of statisticians: 1. good statisticians; 2. liars; and 3. (fingers in ears) damned liars (fingers out now).

Now, I happen to believe that David and Todd belong to the first category. They have done an amazing job of presenting a statistical overview of world Christianity for many years now, helping mission strategists worldwide. I also believe in the motivating power of information. William Carey presented statistics about the world’s unreached millions to launch the modern missionary movement. I have been involved in collating research in Holland for DAWN and understand some of the difficulties of finding reliable sources.

But let’s get real!!

These sort of statistics about Europe mean nothing and help no-one. It’s time to get honest about our desperate situation in Europe. Of all continents, ours is most guilty of suppressing the truth about God and exchanging that truth for a lie (see Romans 1:18 & 25). I would like to suggest to the Dutch Christian paper which ran this report to print a retraction under the slightly adapted heading, “Europe is still the post-Christian continent”.

Maybe we should take up a collection to fly B & J over to Europe to see the situation for themselves. Compared to the other continents, we are fast becoming spiritual dwarfs. Believers in China outnumber the whole population of Germany! There are more Anglicans in Nigeria than in England and America combined! One church in Korea has a membership equal to the whole population of Amsterdam! The Assemblies of God denomination in Brazil has more members than evangelicals in the whole of Europe!

No wonder God has to send us prophetic voices from Asia, Africa and Latin America today, with gifts of faith that we Europeans seem to have lost!

Ok, I’ll be all right now.
Just had to get this off my chest.

Jeff Fountain

(pssst! wanna buy a slightly inaccurate world missions map? – collector’s item)

Till next week,


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