Church Planting in Gothenburg, Sweden
By Thomas Jonasson
One early morning in the village of Nkararu in Kenya I woke up before the sunrise. I went out to pray that morning while watching the blood red sun rising over the African landscape. I was asking God if he wanted me and my wife to move out to Kenya as missionaries. As I was praying for Africa I suddenly got the most vivid and clear dream I have ever had. I saw myself as a pastor in a huge church in central of Gothenburg, Sweden. This was 1993 and that vision came to change my life and has followed me ever since that day! 18 years later, God has finally talked to us about planting a new life-giving church in Gothenburg. I would say there has not been a day during these 18 years where we have not prayed that God would release us into our life-calling of building a church in Gothenburg. Sometimes the dream can take time until its fulfillment. But we have had the privilege to take an amazing journey that has prepared us for this day. Do you have to wait 20 years of ministry to be able to plant a church? No, we have planted several churches on our journey here. But sometimes it may take some time before you reach that thing that is your life-destiny to do! We have worked with churches and church planting in Africa, India and former Soviet Union etc. But today it seems that Europe is becoming the most needed mission field on earth. Europe is in dire needs of a new breed of churches that reaches out to the lost and broken. Europe needs a new church planting movement if we ever are going to be able to change the tide.
A secular Europe
Europe that once was a Christian missions sending part of the world is today one of the most secularized continents in the world. And the high pace in which Christianity is loosing ground in Europe is very scary.
There are several ways of seeing how secular a nation is. In a global research on people’s values they asked a number of questions to people. One of the questions was: "How important is religion in your life?" If you look at how many people who choose the option saying "Religion is Very important in my life" the number is stunning. In many countries in Africa 97% said it was very important. In Brazil 74% said it was very important. In USA it was 57%. But when you come over to Europe the numbers drop fast! In Poland 30% said that religion was very important. England and Germany had 20%. And in the very bottom we find Sweden with only 8% of the population saying that religion is very important in their life!
Sweden is one of the most secular countries in the world! Of those 8% that say religion is very important to them only 1-2% goes to church! If I would ask a swede on the street what they think when I say “church”, some people would not even know what I was talking about. Most people see the church as the place you get married in, and get buried at! That’s all! We have 483 Pentecostal churches in Sweden and only three of those have more than one thousand active members!
It is in this secular climate we want to plant a life-giving church in Sweden’s second largest city; Gothenburg. A city that is strategically located in the heart of Scandinavia with only a few hours driving to three capitols; Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen. With the low-price airlines you can get anywhere in Europe from Gothenburg for only 50USD.
A church for those who does not go to church
The vision for our new church is to “give Hope and Life to a broken world!” Gothenburg is a city full of broken people without hope and without life! It’s a city where most people might look like they are doing quit good on the outside and with a high living standard. But they have no clue on who Jesus is or what the church really is! This is a challenge that can either be scary or exciting. We choose to se it as an exciting challenge! We want to believe God to reach out to those 92% that says that religion is not that important! But in order to do that we need to have a different angle to how we will attract these people to come to church.
As we plant we are doing it with ARC (association of Related Churches). I think ARC has the right DNA to reach Sweden. But what we must understand is that we will never get people to church by just inviting them to church! Planting a church here means no shortcuts. It’s really back to basics and getting out there and building relationships with people. We want to build an attractional church, but even more than that we need to build attractional life’s in order to eventually attract people to church! We want to build a church for those who don’t go to church. We need to work with a strategy to inviting people to church through creating events and happenings that are attractive for the unchurched. We will launch our “first” launch in November. That launch will draw attention. We will then do a “second” launch the first week of February to start of regular Sunday services. A lot of people move into Gothenburg for new courses at the universities at that time whom we then will try to reach. We will then make a “third” launch in the end of August when we have a big flow of new people moving into Gothenburg for the universities. We will not be using a Christian marketing firm to work with our launch. I have had a meeting with one of the best TV production companies in the nation. They do the best commercials for TV and have won several awards. I have presented my vision to them and asked them how they would do to make people come to church! Who could know better how the reach the unchurched than the unchurched themself! And you with only 1% of the population going to church we don’t have that many great Christian marketing firms anyway! We just have to make the church very accessible and transparent from day one! Let people in and not try to hide anything.
Love the city and its people
I already have a great church in Gothenburg, the people just don’t know it yet! Every person in Gothenburg is my church member. My job is to make them understand that. To treat each and everyone I meet with the same love and compassion as if they were my own family members! I think that every church planter has to fall in love with the city the will plant in. You have to love the city and its people. You have to go out on the streets and start to look at people. See the lost and hurting, the broken and lonely. Look through the masks and charades. I have had a lot of prayer walks through the city. Most of them I do by my self. We must never underestimate the power of prayer. The time before launch is the time where our prayers will decide our success in the future! Even if we pray for everything from practical things for the launch, launch budget and right location etc. we try to focus our prayers on people’s life being changed! If we can make a difference in peoples life we will be successful as a church!
From Gothenburg to the ends of the world
The vision I saw 18 years ago was a large church. I know that it might be good to be humble and not talk about size when you haven’t even launched your church yet. But we have decided to dream big from day one. We realize it will be small in the beginning and that it will take time. But I want t see further than just Gothenburg. We would need one thousand new churches in Europe! And my dream is that we will be able to build a model church in Gothenburg that will reproduce it self out over Europe and to the ends of the world. We want to give hope and life not only to a broken Gothenburg, but to a broken world!
Thomas Jonsson is the Lead pastor of KCV (Christian Center Church), a multi site church based in Stenungsund, Sweden. He is married to Ann-Margréth with two daughters, Kimberly and Kelly.
Thomas started in ministry 1991 by traveling into the east European and former Soviet Union countries preaching the Gospel. In 1994 he got married to Ann-Margréth and the same year they moved out to Kenya, Africa as missionaries. In Africa they worked amongst the Maasai people having crusades, training leaders and planting churches. They also work in Mombasa in a tremendous revival with a church called Jesus Celebration Center that grew up to 25 000 members. Thomas also founded a mission organization named Words of Victory Int. that has started bible schools and churches in several African nations like Kenya, Congo, Angola etc..
After Africa they moved to Sweden to work with pastor Ulf Ekman and Word of Life church for nine years. Word of Life has an amazing missions-work with thousands of churches planted in former Soviet Union and the east European countries. Thomas was one of the main bible-school teachers at Word of Life and traveling to all their bible schools around the world. After nine year God called Thomas and Ann-Margréth to Stenungsund where they have been pastoring up till now.
Thomas is the Author of six books. Two books in English and four in Swedish.
Today Thomas is on the Lead team for Europe Advance, a church-planting network that works together with pastors in the ARC (Association of Related Churches). He is a national coordinator for John C Maxwells leadership school EQUIP. Thomas sits on the national board for Church planting in the Pentecostal denomination of Sweden. Thomas also sits on the board of Business Class, a network for Christian businessmen, on the lead team for the Pentecostal preachers fellowship and on the lead team of Scandinavian Apostolic network.