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Nordstern Kirche meets on Sundays at 4pm at the Villa Orange Hotel in the North End of Frankfurt. We arrive at Nordstern’s service two hours early to find Stephan, Michael, and two others already setting up worship, and then the music team begins to practice. They sing the familiar songs “Lobpreis und Ehre” (Ancient of Days) and “Mein Erloëser lebt” (My Redeemer Lives), among others.
The service is preceded by coffee, tea, cake, and socializing as people - mostly young adults and families, people who work in everything from medicine to public relations to the airline industry - trickle into the space well ahead of the 4pm start time. A cellist, there for the first time, plays the prelude and the service begins with a quote by Martin Luther. Hotel guests hang out at the bar outside the door while the service goes on, typical of a new church’s experience. The sermon topic is on the triumphant Jesus. Stephan integrates pop culture references into his sermon and draws pictures on the whiteboard. When the service ends, the cellist sounds another beautiful tune. Church attendees linger long after the service ends to meet and talk. Even after this, a large group heads out to a restaurant for further communing before the beginning of another week. This is their “third space.”
A new church in a new neighborhood is a natural way to build and sustain community. A group of people expressing the gospel through worship and sharing it with their friends is one of the most effective ways to reach a city. This is happening in Frankfurt. Let’s help them reach their goal.
I, for one, had never tasted the German specialty currywurst before my time in Frankfurt, but Stephan showed us to the best place in the city. It was good, and I was more than pleased with my experience, but the question I'm still asking is, why is the hottest spice only allowed to those 18 years and older?
Have any of you ever had spicy currywurst?
Why is church planting important? In Frankfurt, as in the rest of Germany, most people belong to a state church. Their relationship to the church is typically expressed through dedications, confirmations, marriage if it actually happens, and funerals. Those who go to state churches commute in from the countryside.
“Our denomination is dying,” said Stephan. “It’s not the best motivation but it works.” It would take 50 new churches with 150 people each to reach 10% of Stephan’s neighborhood. “We have to plant more in our neighborhood. We need to be not growing in numbers, but growing in numbers, meaning that we need more churches with smaller congregations, not a couple of megachurches.”
Stephan says that church planting is different from evangelism because it is not a one-time thing but a full-time missional way of living. It is missions at its best because missions should always lead into church planting. “There’s no doubt, we have to plant more churches here and begin showing our neighbors how much we want to love and care for them. I believe church planting is the most effective way to reach my generation.”
In the early 16th century, Martin Luther called Frankfurt “the gold and silver hole through which everything that springs and grows, is minted or coined here, flows out of Germany.” Indeed, the stock exchange originated in Frankfurt around 1100 when the Emperor called for free trade fairs, and currencies from all over Germany were exchanged. It is now the 10th largest stock exchange in the world. Frankfurt is still defined by its global economic influence. If you’ve flown to Europe, chances are you’ve connected through Frankfurt. But it also Europe’s busiest cargo hub, with more than 2 million tons passing through each year.
Even the skyline manifests the prominence of money. Despite zoning rules stipulating that skyscrapers be concentrated downtown, the city allowed the towering European Central Bank headquarters to be built in the East End, separate from the rest though still within the city limits.
Many people move to Frankfurt to make money and gain power, perhaps the two biggest idols. At the same time, there is an underlying social consciousness about the abuse of these two idols. Primark, a large clothing retailer with a shop in downtown Frankfurt, is disliked in the North End because of its factory conditions and cheap labor.
“Idols are built on good desires, but the way we go about them has to be redeemed,” Stephan said, “They are meant for good, something that points to God. They point to something more beautiful.”
This post by Stephan Pues was originally posted on The Gospel Coalition blog.
In 1666 Philipp Jakob Spener became the leading Protestant pastor in Frankfurt, Germany. A century after Martin Luther’s Reformation revitalized the Christian faith in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, much of the enthusiasm had dissipated. The gospel was not vital in people’s hearts, and the church was not relevant for the city and its culture. Spener yearning for another renewal. And so in 1675 he wrote the Pia Desideria (“a desire from the heart”) to his city of Frankfurt. The text is a cry for renewal of the gospel in his life, his church, his city, and his country. And God used him to start a widespread revival from Frankfurt into the world, later called Pietism.
Today Frankfurt is in many ways a different city. It is a global city, the financial capital of Europe, in the heart of Germany. It is shaped by postmodern thinkers, big companies, and creative people. Skyscrapers, subways, cars, stores, and dense living spaces shape the city. I think Spener would wonder many things if he could walk the streets of his city today. But he would find at least one thing the same: the situation of the church.
'Spiritual' But with No Church
Most people in Frankfurt would call themselves spiritual. But few would expect a church or the Christian faith to be beneficial. The churches are struggling with the challenge to reach younger, urban, postmodern, post-Christian, and post-secular people—those who think liberally, love creativity, value diversity, hang out in third places, define their own values, buy fair trade clothing, call themselves spiritual, and love the urban environment.
The challenges of our city are obvious when you walk through it. The skyscrapers of the financial district show the desire to rise up into the world of money and power. A few blocks farther in the red light district you see people longing for love and intimacy. In the city center people spend a lot of money on clothes and beautiful things to make them look and feel good. And in the many clubs every night people long for joy and satisfaction. Everyone who comes to the city desires to get something from it: meaning, wealth, joy, love, or security.
But there is only way for anyone to find sure satisfaction: in the gospel of Jesus—presented and lived out by a church that is changed by the gospel itself. That is a church with people who are freed by the gospel to love their neighbor and city, who don’t live just to make themselves feel better, and who don’t ask “what can we get” but “what can we give” just as Jesus did. Frankfurt needs more of these churches.
Church for Revival
In 2009, I moved with my family to Frankfurt. God had called us to plant a church, and then ten more people joined us. That calling led us to start a project called “Nordstern” (north star) in the Nordend (north end) neighborhood of Frankfurt. As we continue with this project, we desire the same as Spener did: revival in our city. And we believe that through the gospel it can happen again. The vision is to start a church for those who haven’t yet heard of Jesus and help multiply it into a movement of many more church plants in Frankfurt.
About 60 years after Spener’s Pia Desideria, Nikolaus von Zinzendorf visited Frankfurt. He was a leader in the Pietism revival. And he wrote to a friend: “Never have I experienced revival like I have seen it in Frankfurt.” He saw people who believed in the gospel and a city that was socially and culturally changed. Wouldn’t it be great if several decades from now someone would come to Frankfurt, see revival, and write something like that to a friend? I believe that God can still do it, and I hope he will.
Nordstern Kirche is a new church in Frankfurt. Their vision is that the people of Frankfurt would grow—through the gospel—in their love for Jesus and their neighbors in the city. They pray that this would happen for the glory of God, the happiness of the people, and the good of the city. You'll see in this video how their new church plant is changing the lives and hearts of those in the city already through the power of the gospel.
You can also listen to the entire song written and produced by members of Nordstern.
Frankfurt is a city that is young and awakened, full of energy. Although it’s relatively small at 700,000 in the center, its global influence is high. There are more millionaires in Frankfurt than in any other city in Europe. But if you visit by train, you have to walk right through the red light district to get downtown. It’s a place full of potential for the gospel.
Stephan Pues is planting Nordstern Kirche, launched in September 2013 in the north end of the city. When he and his wife, Verena, and family first thought about where they’d like to plant a new church, they kept coming back to Frankfurt. They moved in 2009 when Stephan was a pastoral intern, and they settled into Frankfurt with their core group.
Nordstern is a fifteen minute walk from downtown and outside the old wall of the city. Businesses are inside the old wall and citizens live on the outside. It is close to the center of third spaces: coffee shops, bars, clubs, and cafes. 50% of the neighborhood have a non-German background and could be classified as post-Materialist high performers.
The church's desire is to see the gospel affecting people in such a way that they start to ask new questions. The gospel has so much potential here - what if money was traded differently? People start their careers in Frankfurt - what if the gospel changed their lives at the beginning of their careers? These are questions Stephan is exploring with his church, and he is beginning to see the fruit.