Matthieu (Matt) Klass loves Brussels, Belgium. In February 2013, he and his wife Christella, in collaboration with Olivier and Esther Engels, planted Église Protestante de la Cambre. The church meets in Ixelles, the heart of intellectual, cultural and political life in Brussels.
While Matt was recently in NYC, we were able to hear more about the spiritual climate in Europe and what he is learning as he lives and pastors in this beautiful city.
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. Catholic churches won’t allow them to use their spaces. Religious freedoms are threatened. When he imagines 30 years from now, Matt often wonders if there will be freedom to preach 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 cultivate the soil.”
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, many more people went to church. Now, no one goes. Individualism has risen. But, against all expectations, some religious beliefs are proliferating and people are picking and choosing their own religion—so that brings opportunity.”
Socioeconomic instabilities have enhanced the need for community. There are people who long for deeper relationships and are open to considering faith. Matt says, “We need to do a better job with those who are interested.”
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 for the church to gather two to four times a month, but there are strategic advantages to not having a corporate worship service as central in their specific context and situation. Fewer resources (such as money, preaching and specialized ministries) are required for the smaller group gatherings. Matt says, “We need both worship services and missional communities, but if we can’t do both, this model may be an answer.”
This format also provides resilience for what may be ahead. Matt asks, “What kind of church life, structure, rhythms and discipleship processes will it take so we can not only survive but also multiply? If the worship service is the hub, and the building were to get eliminated, what’s left?” Again, he feels these smaller communities provide a viable alternative.
“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 of the city. It seems to be working. He reflects, “What we’ve experienced is confirming that this is something that can really multiply.”
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 Matt and his team loving their city in creative ways, people are experiencing community, and the gospel is on display.