Wall Street Journal: The Well Spring: Maybe Christianity in Europe hasn't run dry.
BRUSSELS--Old ladies sitting in otherwise empty churches. That's the picture most of my American friends have of spirituality in Europe. Well, that or a continent being overrun by jihadist Muslims. It's not an entirely incorrect picture (the empty churches, not the scimitar-wielding immigrants). How is it, then, that a guy like me, Bible Belt-born and -bred, lifetime churchgoer, has found spiritual renewal in this pit of secularism? And am I the only one?
The hard data show that Christianity remains in long-term decline here. A 2004 Gallup poll found that 15% of Europeans attend a weekly worship service of any faith, compared with 44% of Americans. And the spiritual gap between the U.S. and Europe is actually "worse than people think," says Philip Jenkins, author of "God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis."
But the light is not yet out. Those remaining believers and the faith communities they form are what Prof. Jenkins calls "white dwarves"--because "they're smaller than the sun, but they shine brighter." I'm no astrophysicist, but it seems to me that such intense bodies--when composed of people who believe passionately in a cause--are more likely to expand than to contract.
This is certainly true of the church in which I'm involved here, which has grown to 120 members--larger than the average church in Belgium--in just a couple of years.
The Well doesn't gather as one large group in a church building but rather as a few smaller groups in cafés and restaurants. That's in part because we don't actually own a building. But there's a purpose behind this, too: It's far less intimidating for newcomers to visit a public space with a dozen or so other people than a normal "church" with pews and a steeple and a hundred strange faces. In the course of our gatherings, we also meet people who were just going out for coffee and probably wouldn't have wandered into a sanctuary along the way.
This emphasis on the nontraditional is intentional. For many of the Europeans I've met here, it's not God who is dead to them as much as it is The Church--the official, often state-supported church, be it Catholic, Anglican or Lutheran. Now new life is being infused into these churches by missionaries from America and even Africa.