7 European Christian ministry trends in 2024
Today, secular Europeans have a very acute radar. They crave substance, not hype; what is real, not what is fake. They want God, not Christianity-lite. How can we meet this commendable need? By raising the bar spiritually.
12 JANUARY 2024 · 13:31 CET
If you’re like me, January is an opportunity to think about our missional context anew. I find it helpful to reflect with my leadership team about our current moment and read articles such as Carey Nieuwhof’s 7 Church Trends That Will Disrupt 2024, even if written from a North American perspective.
What are the challenges and opportunities for Christian ministry in Europe in 2024? Here are some of the trends I’ve observed in Rome, where I live, that might apply to other parts of our continent.
1. We are now in the pandemic’s “Little Ice Age”
We might be tempted to think that the Covid-19 pandemic is gone. Old news. Sayonara. But its effects on society linger, even if we don’t use masks or navigate social restrictions anymore.
An insightful article by Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchard divided the pandemic’s effects in three phases. The first was a scary blizzard, which I would pinpoint as the first lockdown in 2020. Next came winter: the two years when the virus required widespread use of masks, restrictions, and vaccinations. The authors foresaw also a “little ice age”, which they defined as “once-in-a-lifetime change that is likely to affect our lives and organizations for years.”
The epidemiological pandemic might be over, but its emotional and cultural effects linger. For many people, it feels more burdensome to leave home, risk emotional vulnerability, meet new people, attend large events, and commit to things.
Collectively, we still want to defend ourselves from an invisible enemy. So, we long for security and protection, prizing the safety of home and of what is already familiar maybe more than ever.
2. People are less stable and engaged
There are other trends that contribute to a widespread sense of instability: ongoing wars, the growth of technology, smart working, geographical mobility, ethical relativism, and the absorbing nature of consumer society. Maybe it’s just my impression, but in 2024 the world’s formative power – “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16) — seems stronger.
For church leaders, it feels harder to rely on people and plan for the long haul. People are committing less, keeping their options open, and going back on their word more easily. Church members who came always now come often. Those who came often now come rarely. And those who came rarely don’t come anymore.
There are more options, more fluidity, and more distraction.
3. Mental health has become a broad concern
In the past, mental health was a niche topic that interested mostly people who grappled with specific mental illnesses. But a lonely, technological society has led to alarming levels of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, family tension, and violence. Everybody’s mental health seems more fragile these days.
This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the church in Europe. At Hopera, we’ve recently offered a seminar about managing our emotions and a discipleship course about healing our wounds and pasts. A sermon that challenged people to not complain about anything for 24 hours resonated with a lot of people.
In the spring, our annual church retreat will include the possibility of arriving the day before for a smaller pre-retreat without phones, when we will focus on lectio divina, spiritual discernment, long meals, and soul conversations.
The church can be an island of sanity, as we help people move from isolation to connection, anxiety to prayer, and resentment to gratitude.
4. There is more hunger for what is real
The church planting and church growth playbook of the last couple of decades relied to a significant extent on contemporary services, cool bands, motivational sermons, and engaging social media. They do have a role, but haven’t evangelicals relied on them far too much?
Today, secular Europeans have a very acute radar. They crave substance, not hype; what is real, not what is fake. Young people who are open to spiritual things, especially, want God, not Christianity-lite.
How can we meet this commendable need? By raising the bar spiritually. For instance, our Sunday services now include a moment of congregational prayer when people lift their voices, instead of just praying silently or hearing prayers from upfront.
Our congregation has also responded positively to invitations to fast, read the whole Bible in a year, and join prayer trios that include confession of sin and mutual accountability. A church leader in Berlin told me that intimate retreats without phones for 5-10 people were very appreciated in his congregation.
Don’t be afraid of challenging people to greater devotion. We are children of the Living God!
5. Get people to practice Christianity, not just be persuaded of it
One of the quotes that most struck me in the past years was, “Enlightenment Christianity is powerless.” Even if we don’t subscribe to secular assumptions and believe the Holy Spirit can act supernaturally today, it’s hard to dispute that in the past few centuries, European Christianity has largely been a cognitive faith, focusing more on the teaching of doctrines than the formation of character and dependence on God.
Much of our ministries and apologetics are geared toward persuading people about the truth of the gospel. And that is important. But we also need to get them to practice Christianity. Jesus taught us to love God with all our minds, souls, hearts, and strengths, after all.
To my surprise, I’ve found that incorporating people into the life of the church even before they “officially” believe helps them get there. People need plausibility structures that embody the truth of the gospel. Meeting people who love God and serve one another can speak louder than any intellectual argument.
6. We need renewed leaders for a renewed missional push
Leaders who have survived the pandemic’s turmoil, let alone their personal challenges, might still battle discouragement, cynicism, and ministry setbacks. We know that maintenance mode results in less traction and brings diminishing returns, but to be honest, many of us are reticent to give it all we've got again.
But there is a lot of potential in 2024. The harvest is plentiful. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever!
So, for a renewed missional push, we need renewed leaders. If your passion is not where it needs to be, do the necessary inner work to get there. Sign up for counseling. Seek a spiritual director. Go on retreats. Nurture soul friendships. Strengthen your support network.
7. Combine incarnational and digital outreach
This renewed missional push requires creativity, experimentation, and innovation. We don’t need to pit incarnational presence against digital outreach. In fact, one aids the other. The people we meet befriend us on social media, see what we post, and this leads to more faith conversations.
At our church, we are considering experimenting with community-building Friday evenings (besides the church’s Bible studies, discipleship courses, and other faith-focused events). Here’s a list of ideas, in case they are relevant to your context. These events might revolve around movie discussions, food competitions, games evenings, art exhibitions, author interviews, costume parties, and events where seekers will be able to introduce themselves by talking about their favourite books, songs, or movies.
And we will augment these evangelistic efforts with digital content. They will include short, vertical videos (Instagram reels / YouTube shorts) that convey nuggets of everyday wisdom and a streaming platform where we will publish interviews about topics such as artificial intelligence and flourishing as single people, in addition to our church’s sermons and worship songs.
What about you?
Let me close with some questions. Which of these trends feels most relevant to your context? And what reflection or ministry idea can you share with others? Feel free to leave a comment below. Let’s help each other minister to our beloved Europe!
René Breuel is the Lead Pastor of Hopera, a church in Rome, Italy, and the author of The Paradox of Happiness.
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