Reaching the world on the church's doorstep

Published 30 December 2011
With people of the world living in cities everywhere, mission need not mean going to another continent, says Axel Nehlsen.

The Director of Together for Berlin (Gemeinsam fuer Berlin) has spent 30 years reaching out to communities in the German capital.

With more than half of the world's population living in cities of more than a million people, Nehlsen is convinced that God's focus is on cities.

Home to 3.5 million people and 185 nationalities, Berlin is typical of multicultural and multinational cities across Europe.

There have long been immigrant communities in European cities and the continent's relative stability and prosperity continues to attract new arrivals each year.

Most recently, there has been an influx of Iraqis and North Africans as a result of the Iraq war and Arab Spring.

With so many unreached people already living in close proximity to the churches, Nehlsen believes Christians do not need to look very far for some amazing opportunities to share the Gospel.

"Mission and the mission net can be spread out in our European cities," he told young Christians at the Mission-Net Congress in Erfurt, Germany.

"We don't necessarily have to go to another continent, Africa or Asia, we have all these people outside our doors."

As with all cities, the diversity poses challenges. In Europe especially, cities are characterised by a decline in moral values and growing secularisation.

The attitude prevalent among younger Europeans in particular, Nehlsen notes, is: "Christianity helps you? That's nice, but I'm different."

The majority are not necessarily atheist but they are indifferent. "They don't care," he says.

At the other end of the scale, there are those who are hostile to Christians and while there is a "trend away from any religion" among Europeans, "strong Islam" is visible in many immigrant communities.

But Nehlsen says he is an optimist, a "glass half full type", who sees even the growth of Muslim communities as an opportunity.

"Muslims are very interested in what we can tell them about our faith so don't be afraid," he said.

Seeing opportunities does not necessarily mean that churches should launch into a programme or "five steps to success".

"It doesn't work like that," he says.

Rather, to Nehlsen, mission is about the church aligning itself with what God is already doing – and then do it together.

"When we work together and talk together it gives an example to the world … Transformed lives and transformed churches will transform cities."

That is why the dwindling number of active Christians across Europe has not caused him to give up just yet.

Just as in the past, when God used Luther and Zwingli to revolutionise the church, God can use even a handful of Christians to change the continent again today.

"Be bold and be aware of the power God can give us."

He added: "The Kingdom of God is constantly growing through struggles and crises so there is hope for our cities."

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