Simple as ABC

January 30, 2006

WHOEVER CAME UP WITH THE IDEA OF CATEGORISING THE WORLD’S NATIONS AS ‘UNREACHED’ (WORLD A), ‘PARTIALLY REACHED’ (WORLD B) AND ‘REACHED’ (WORLD C) HAD A BRILLIANT PLAN. These categories enabled anyone to look at a list of nations and see at a glance where the greatest spiritual needs were globally, and where resources needed to be deployed.

Only, these categories don’t really work when it comes to the post-Christian world, particularly Europe. A colleague wrote me last week from the Czech Republic asking why that country, one of the most atheistic countries in Europe, is listed as a World C nation with over 60 per cent “professing Christians”?

And there’s the rub. What do we mean by ‘Christian’? And how can we measure that? Traditional research has relied on church membership figures, and these provide the statistics we read in the World Christian Encyclopedia and Operation World. But is it really so simple?

Increasingly in a post-modern world, such figures are meaningless. At least two out of every three Frenchmen are registered Roman Catholics. That makes France a World C country. Yet David Bjork, missionary in France for over twenty years, says that most French people would happily say that they are Christian, Catholic, rationalist and atheist all at the same time! And when they are sick they would go to the spiritist healer!! For them, being ‘Christian’ has little to do with faith, and everything to do with culture.

Less than one Czech in three believes in God, my colleague wrote, citing a recent national census. Paper statistics bear little resemblance to practical realities. Unfortunately, such statistics misinform church leaders who laudably want to focus on the least reached. So some of our YWAM workers are hearing from their home churches that their support is being drastically cut, my colleague included. After all, do countries like the Czech Republic really need missionaries?

I have pleaded in vain with researchers in the past – including editors of the above mentioned standard references – to find better indicators of the true spiritual situation in Europe. But – hallelujah! – answers are now on the way! The European Mission Research Group (emRG) have just completed a study on the ‘Christianness of Europe’. While 72.7 per cent of Europeans are culturally affiliated with Christianity, the report states, only 4.12 per cent are Christians actively concerned about the spiritual state of their neighbours.

The research team, including Andreas Wolf of the Hope for Europe research network, has developed a framework called the emRG Matrix. While findings thus far are based on responses from 500 respondents across Europe, the whole European missions community is invited to help fill in the matrix data to fill out the picture. An open consultation on this report will be held in Barcelona (April 3-5) for all interested in research in Europe. The full report will be released this week on http://emrg.friderich.net/.

Measuring the ‘Christianness’ of Europe is no simple task, the researchers admit. Christianity has been an integral part of Europe’s history since Constantine, and cultural affiliation with Christianity does not necessarily reflect personal conviction. The emRG group want this report to provoke intelligent discussion of the true spiritual situation in Europe, based on objective and timely data.

This watershed research will help us rethink the ABC’s of European mission and recognise the true spiritual needs of the continent, which, in Lesslie Newbigin’s words, belongs to the ‘greatest missiological challenge of our time’.

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

Till next week,


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