In February 2013, Matthieu (Matt) and Christella Klass, in collaboration with Olivier and Esther Engels, planted Église Protestante de la Cambre, out of their love for Brussels, Belgium. Today, their church meets in Ixelles, the heart of intellectual, cultural and political life in Brussels.
Christian leaders have been repeatedly told that Western Europe is a desert for Christianity. And Église Protestante de la Cambre has certainly experienced hostility -- they’ve not been allowed to rent community centers or schools, and Catholic churches won’t allow them to use their spaces. When he imagines 30 years from now, Matt often wonders if there will be freedom to preach what the Bible in its entirety.
But when asked about the hard soil in Brussels, Matt says, “As studies and experience are showing, it’s not that the soil is so hard. It’s that the church has not known how to plow.”
While institutionalized religion—usually tied to a nation or state church—is dying, that’s not true of all religion. Matt explains, “Inherited Christianity is declining. Sixty years ago, everyone went to mass. Now, no one goes. Individualism has risen. But, against all expectations, some religious beliefs are proliferating and people are picking and choosing their religion—so that brings opportunity.”
According to Matt, Protestants stress that you need to make up your own mind and that it’s not enough to just be a part of the state church. That resonates in Europe.
Église Protestante de la Cambre is exploring the ministry model where the center of gravity is missional communities rather than worship services. These communities are more than Bible studies–they consist of 12 people who share a part of their lives on a daily basis. Together they serve and seek to find what the Lord is calling them to learn.
Matt sees much spiritual growth as well as outreach in and through these groups. He says, “We have more non-Christians exploring the gospel there than in worship services.”
Matt still believes it is very important that the church gathers together two to four times a month, but the worship service shouldn’t be the center of gravity in their specific context and situation. Here are some of the strategic advantages of this format:
Church plants can be active without waiting to reach the number of people needed to sustain a weekly public gathering.
Less burden to gather the resources a weekly worship service requires (money, preaching, specialized ministry).
Matt says, “We won’t make disciples of Jesus with worship services only. We need both worship services and missional communities, but if we can't do both, this model may be an answer.”
Église Protestante de la Cambre started with one missional community, and they now have multiple groups. As leaders develop, Matt works with and encourages them to consider starting new groups in other areas. It seems to be working: ‘What we’ve experienced is confirming that this is something that can really multiply,” says Matt.
To be a church planter is to be a risk taker. It’s to study the city, learn the context and respond appropriately to the needs. Through the Église Protestante de la Cambre team loving their city in creative ways, people are experiencing community, and the gospel is on display.