Planting Life-Giving Churches in Post-Christian Europe
By Sebastiaan van Wessem
Amsterdam… If you hear the name of that city most Christians around the world will have negative associations. To name but a few: prostitution, drugs and homosexuality. I am not sure if Amsterdam is any worse than any other city in the world, but immorality is definitely more visible in this city than in many other places.
The story of Thousand Hills
Amsterdam is only 30 minutes away from where our church is. Back in 2006 we launched an international, English-speaking church in the city of Hilversum, the media capital of the Netherlands. Today, it is called Thousand Hills International Church, and our Sunday attendance is close to 300. It is our goal to reach expats, immigrants, people working in the media business and Dutch nationals who feel drawn to a different style of church than the average church in the Netherlands. We’re contemporary, Spirit-filled, life-giving and our messages are really relevant for every day life.
We had an amazing opening Sunday in the spring of 2006. There was a lot of excitement about this new church coming to town. After the service my co-pastor and I had lunch with David Koerts, John Maxwell’s Equip coordinator in Holland, and Billy Hornsby, the president of the Association of Related Churches. This was the first time I met Billy and when we shared the story of how we started our church, he said that the approach we followed was very similar to the approach that the ARC has successfully employed in the US.
When we started with Thousand Hills, we always had in mind to start more churches than just one, so Billy’s story sparked our interest. What if we were to start a church planting network in Holland that would plant more life-giving churches in strategic cities such as Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague and Rotterdam?
The start of Europe Advance
Now let’s fast forward to 2009. A few of my friends in the US, including Jerry and Melanie Stone, told me about a man by the name of Desmond Frey. They told me that Desmond had been planting a church in Zürich, Switzerland, and that he had been involved in Equip Europe-wide. Because Jerry and Melanie were aware of my passion to start a European church planting network, they also told me that Desmond had a similar vision.
So we decided to meet in Koblenz in June 2009. At that meeting not only Desmond was present, but also Larry Blakeslee, a missionary in Germany, and Steve Hickey, Senior Pastor of Church at the Gate in Sioux Falls (SD). Steve had also been involved with ARC, assessing church planting candidates. Steve felt a stirring in his heart to reach Europe through church planting, so he promised to support our vision from the US.
As a result of that meeting, we decided to go ahead with starting the Europe Advance church planting network. Europe Advance would become a European expression of the Association of Related Churches. The first step we would take is organize a couple of Church Planters Roundtables. This would allow us to connect with candidate church planters and pastors who would support the vision.
The first Church Planting Roundtables
Our first two CPRs were held in January 2010 in Hilversum and Zürich. Rob Ketterling, Senior Pastor of River Valley Church in Apple Valley (MN) and Lead Team member of ARC, was our trainer for these two CPRs. Our third CPR was held in Sweden, near Gothenburg, in Thomas Jonsson’s church with another Lead Team member of ARC, Matt Fry, who is also the Lead Pastor of C3 Church in Clayton (NC).
We did our fourth CPR in Braunschweig, Germany, with Greg Surratt, Senior Pastor of Seacoast Church in Charleston (SC). Greg was the man who had the initial vision to start ARC and who teamed up with Billy Hornsby to make it happen. Greg has been a personal friend and mentor since March 2009 when Mark Batterson introduced me to him.
Vision to reach Europe
Greg, Matt and Rob all have really caught the vision to reach Europe. During the past year, Desmond, Thomas Jonsson and I have been talking to some influential pastors in Europe to get them involved with the Europe Advance vision. With only between 2-5% born-again followers of Christ, the vision to reach Europe through church planting needs to be backed by many pastors, business people and churches within Europe and outside Europe.
It is sad to see that many churches in Europe have a big vision to reach Third World countries, but no vision at all to reach their own city and their own continent. This has to change! The churches of the ARC pastors we have been working with and churches like Hillsong are great models how God can use the local church to really bring hope to a lost continent. I always encourage pastors and church planters here to learn as much from them as possible and especially the culturally transferrable principles.
What will Europe Advance do?
So what will Europe Advance do? 1) We’ll cast vision for the need to plant life-giving churches in Europe, both in Europe itself and outside of Europe. 2) We’re creating a worldwide network with resources for church planters and pastors of churches with a heart to reach the lost. 3) We’ll recruit, assess, train and mentor church planters. 4) We’ll help fund church planting projects through the revolving fund we are setting up.
A few weeks ago we’ve started our first church planting project in Freiburg, a city in the south-west of Germany (www.watermarkfreiburg.de). They have been doing really well so far and during every service in the first weeks there has been at least one person each service who became a Christian. This is the first fruit of the vision we have had over the past few years and we know many new churches will follow that will impact their cities.
How can you help?
Now how can you help? There are many ways in which you can. Europe really needs your support! A first thing you can get involved in is in the church planting work itself. Maybe God is calling you to be a church planting missionary to Europe. Maybe God is calling your church to send out a whole church planting team for a couple of months or years. Maybe God is even calling your church to start a campus in Europe. We are here to assist you and connect you with people on the ground.
A second thing you can do is offer practical help. If you’re a pastor of a life-giving church, why don’t you consider mentoring a few European church planters over Skype or offer internships to our potential planters so they’re being exposed to what it means to be part of a life-giving church that really impacts the community?
A third thing that we need help with is the financial side of it all. Remember I said that many European churches don’t have vision to reach Europe. So imagine how difficult it may get for church planters to raise the money they need to start their churches. It is as expensive to start churches in Europe as it is in America and usually the start is much slower and less spectacular. But there are so many people open to the Gospel! So why not help us build up our revolving fund or consider supporting one or a couple of church planting projects?
A church planter with Europe Advance needs to raise at least $15,000 and we’ll match every amount between $15,000 and $30,000. At the moment we have $30,000 tied up in the church plant in Freiburg and we have $60,000 earmarked for church planting in Holland with one particular Spirit-filled denomination. If we are to do more church plants in other parts of Europe soon, we’ll need to grow the revolving fund. This is the best investment your church can make in Europe, because your money will be used not just for one church plant, but for several when the first church plant repays it and starts to support the growth of the fund with 2% of their income.
The final – and most important – thing that you could get involved in is prayer, not for the harvest (it is there already!!!), but for laborers. The hardest thing in starting a church planting movement is finding the right laborers, not the money or anything else. We need church planters with a vision, passion and determination to do what it takes to start that life-giving church.
Will you help us change the spiritual destiny of Europe? Together we can make that difference!