It happened again last week in Berlin. When I asked a German congregation to think of a prominent European personality who had converted to Islam, immediately the name ‘Cat Stevens’ was called out. Now, how long ago was that? It was in 1977-over thirty years ago!-that singer Cat Stevens converted to Islam at the height of a musical career. Since then he has gone by the name Yusuf Islam.
Yet his name is constantly brought up when I ask for names of modern converts to Islam in Europe. We have to go back three decades to think of someone. This illustrates the truth that, where Islam is growing, it is primarily through biological growth and immigration, not through Europeans changing their worldview.
Meanwhile, under the radar, a massive spiritual and worldview shift has been taking place among Europeans who still show up on census figures as ‘Christian’. This I believe is a far greater challenge in Europe than is Islam.
And there is still little evidence that we, the Body of Christ in Europe, are taking much notice. Yes, we are vaguely aware that in recent times people have become much more open to spirituality, whatever that means. And we can quickly think of contemporary film stars and pop stars dabbling in esoteric-occult-eastern spirituality, like Madonna, Richard Gere and others. Surely that tells us more of the direction popular culture is headed.
Yet that seems to have had little effect on our awareness of how much Europeans are looking for some contact with the ‘higher’. To my knowledge, the outreach strategies of our churches and organisations have not yet adjusted to the new ‘market’.
The cover story of a national magazine in Holland recently talked of ‘cultural creatives’, that is, people who are not interested in status and success, but in personal development, sustainability and social responsibility. That should include followers of Jesus, but actually was referring to people who had no formal religious commitments. They were seeking reality in yoga, eastern meditation, reiki, ancient western paganism, and so on. The term SQ, spiritual quotient, was becoming just as important as IQ, intelligence quotient, we were told.
What really caught my attention was a pie-chart based on recent research into the worldviews of the Dutch population. Some 46% of the Dutch, it claimed, described themselves as non-religious; 25% called themselves Christian; only 3%(!) belonged to other religions, including Islam, while 26% belonged to this informal group of ‘spirituals’. That’s at least one in every four Dutch persons-more than the Christians of Holland!
Not that this group have any kind of creed or believe the same things. It’s a very do-it-yourself style of spirituality, delving into angels, or Buddha, witchcraft, paganism, zen, yin and yang, astrology… you name it! The group has no collective expression, as with Christians attending church, Moslems praying in the mosque or Jews in the synagogue. That’s why they stay under the radar. It’s almost completely privatised and individualistic.
The group includes influential figures in business and politics, entertainment and media. At least one top Dutch business school runs courses in ‘business spirituality’.
If this pie-chart reflects anything near the reality of Holland and Europe, it means we must take this spiritual shift seriously and develop new strategies.
The British Church has a head start on those of us from the Continent. Steve Hollinghurst (Sheffield), John and Olive Drane (Scotland) are among those who have pioneered successful new approaches in this field.
An opportunity to learn from them and others-like Lutheran priest Ole Skjerbaek Madsen (Copenhagen)-will be the Reaching out in Mind Body and Spirit conference to be held in Sheffield, England, Friday 24 to Sunday 26 April 2009.
Over the past few years, we have held European consultations in Basel on evangelism in a spiritual age. At the last event we decided to encourage regional events in between the continent-wide conferences. This gathering in Sheffield is the first of these, and is a place for all interested in relating their faith to today’s spiritual travellers. Plenaries and workshops will explore ministry opportunities through health and fitness centres and MindBodySpirit fairs, life coaching, card reading and spiritual art, meditation, creation liturgy and healing prayer; and much more. Join us there.
(For more information, go to: www.hfe.org/newsandevents/events.php)
Till next week,