It is often taken for granted (at least in American evangelical circles) that Christianity in Europe is dying or dead. But a recent Foreign Policy essay suggests that while the organized Christian church has lost much of its power and prestige throughout Europe, centers of strong and genuine faith are flourishing:
Any traveler to the continent has seen Christianity’s abandoned and secularized churches, many now transformed into little more than museums. But this does not mean that European Christianity is nearing extinction. Rather, among the ruins of faith, European Christianity is adapting to a world in which its convinced adherents represent a small but vigorous minority.
In fact, the rapid decline in the continent’s church attendance over the past 40 years may have done Europe a favor. It has freed churches of trying to operate as national entities that attempt to serve all members of society. Today, no church stands a realistic chance of incorporating everyone. Smaller, more focused bodies, however, can be more passionate, enthusiastic, and rigorously committed to personal holiness. To use a scientific analogy, when a star collapses, it becomes a white dwarf—smaller in size than it once was, but burning much more intensely. Across Europe, white-dwarf faith communities are growing within the remnants of the old mass church.
I am not informed enough to know whether or not this analysis is correct. But it does would not surprise me if the gradual breakdown of the institutional church in Europe paves the way for the revival of spiritual movements that aren't as weighed down by the institutional church's immense political and cultural baggage. Whether or not that happens, this piece is a good reminder that American Christians should be careful not to dismiss Europe as a spiritual wasteland.