New Europe, new churches?

February 26, 2001

This Weekly Word comes from Switzerland, where the annual DAWN church-planting conference is under way near Interlaken. Today I met several fellow-YWAMers there, including Kari Tassia and Mika Piirku from Finland and Daniel Schaerer from France. Over the past decade YWAMers like Daniel, Lynn Green in England and Alv Magnus in Norway have played leading roles in the DAWN movement and in raising the awareness of the need for church-planting in general.

Recently a YWAM leader in Europe recently asked me what our policy was on planting churches. His question made me realise that many current leaders have not been part of the discussions and processing we did early in the last decade. At the very first of the annual European Strategy Conferences we held throughout the 1990’s, in a conference centre called De Burght, in Holland, we made a common commitment to encourage church planting across Europe. Some of us were very active among traditional churches – including Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Orthodox and Reformed – while others were experimenting with radical new forms of church.

We concluded that many thousands of new fellowships needed to be planted across Europe in order to give all Europeans the opportunity to have a witnessing fellowship in their neighbourhood.

So we agreed on the following statement, which we called The De Burght Commitment (February 14, 1990):

  • We commit ourselves anew to the evangelisation of Europe, recognising the biblical and demographic imperatives to help establish believers where there are presently none, and fellowships of renewed believers within traditional ecclesiastical structures.
  • We choose to love, identify with and see to work with the whole community of God’s people.
  • While realising the practical and strategic need to prioritise our choice of working partners, we reject any expectations and pressures to work and fellowship with only segments of God’s people.
  • We commit in each of our nations to promote collaborative movements of denominations, confessions, organisations and local churches towards a shared national goal of establishing witnessing fellowships within reach of every individual, geographically and culturally.

By 1994, YWAMers had been involved in at least a hundred new church-planting exercises. Around that time, major questions began to be asked about what these new churches should look like. Church leaders were beginning to realise that even if each denomination multiplied its own sort of church in the hundreds or thousands, the need still would not be met. What was needed was not more of the same sort of fellowships, but many more of new expressions of church which would meet the needs of the new post-modern Europeans. That would require radical experimentation, which no doubt would involve a good number of failures.

Also around that time, three new phenomena began to surface: Alpha groups, youth congregations and cells. Laurence Singlehurst has been a great champion of cells in recent years in England; Romkje and others have been enthusiastic advocates for Alpha; and we have talked about youth congregations over the past couple of Weekly Words, as important new expressions YWAM cannot afford to ignore, especially in preparation for Impact World Tours.

So what is our policy concerning church planting? Briefly, it is that the New Europe needs thousands of new, relevant expressions of church and that we as YWAM need to be helping to midwife these new plants in a variety of forms. We needed to make room for radical experimentation – and mistakes. As congregations/fellowships/communities became established, they would not take on a YWAM identity but would seek association with existing affiliations, or simply remain independent. YWAM leadership should not take on a double role of pastoring these fellowships, as that often brings confusion to other pastors concerning the non-denominational and non-local church nature of YWAM.

May I encourage you in your leadership to reconsider the De Burght Commitment, and to ask yourself what commitment the ministries under your oversight should make “towards a shared national goal of establishing witnessing fellowships within reach of every individual, geographically and culturally”?

In Jesus our hope,

Jeff Fountain

Till next week,

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