Last weekend I was in Liverpool, visiting our church in Birkenhead. This building was immediately right outside of where I was staying. The sign says something to the effect of "Do you know religious persecution is worse now than 5 years ago. Do you believe in God?"
There is a Christian presence in the U.K. And even in super secular Berlin, there are now over 100 international congregations. But overall, rates of practicing Christians in Western Europe are very low. So doing ministry in a place like Liverpool is very hard work.
Pastor John has been faithfully serving here since the mid-1990's and also works at a shelter in downtown Liverpool. Recently, he was joined by two 26 year old newlyweds--Zach and Audrey. Zach and Audrey are two super sharp young people from the Sixth Avenue Church of God in Alabama (Ken Oldham's church to be precise). Zach fell in love with the Church of God in the U.K. and he's very good at reaching out to youth in places like this. Audrey strikes me as super-sharp and highly intuitive. I really liked them both. We went out for fish and chips (delicious!) and I learned more about them.
It's not easy, what they do. The U.K. is so secular that young people have virtually no respect for the church. As we saw in New Zealand, many do not even know what a church is. Zach and Audrey said that on youth nights sometimes parents drop off their kids at the church just to get rid of them for a few hours---the kids literally have no idea where they are. Absolutely no clue that they are in a church building or what a church is or what goes on there.
There's no doubt that culturally Christianity is in real crisis in Britain. Zach asked a good question the other day, "How come so many hundreds of thousands (millions) of people showed up to see the Pope in England a couple of weeks ago?"
I think the answer is that there are layers to Christianity in places like the U.K.
On one level, there are the remnants of Christianity everywhere in the underpinnings of European civil society. But these are so entrenched in everyday life, they are ignored and undervalued.
Then there is a second level of cultural Christians---people who perhaps do not practice Christianity on a daily basis or have any kind of personal connection to Christ, but who still feel like baptisms, christenings, confirmation, and other Christian rituals are a necessary part of life. It's tradition and superstition. This describes much of Europe. Much as a Buddhist might stop off at a temple before an important job interview, Eastern and Western Christians may attend mass for special occasions, light a candle, or visit the Virgin for an important moment.
On a third level are Church attenders--those that perhaps attend church regularly, and here the percentages in a place like the U.K. or Germany may be as low as 4%.
And I would add a fourth level--those who not only attend church but are practicing Christians--practicing an active Christian life of servanthood and discipline. This number would be much lower than 4%, but that is where we are at.
Despite how difficult it can be in the U.K., Christianity is growing there--and not just amongst immigrant communities. Here is a video of a girl from Wales who is part of the growing (Native-Briton) population of Christians--many brought to Christianity through the Alpha Course (to be discussed in a later post). Check out the video and say a prayer for Zach and Audrey. We have invited them to Berlin and hope to continue being an encouragement to them both here and in Liverpool (Birkenhead):