Supporting Article

Europe: A Missionary Field or Mission Force?

This article demonstrates the urgent need of European churches for pastors and ministers, particularly Chinese-speaking churches. Despite its historical legacy as an active sender of missionaries, Europe nowadays should be considered a mission field. The speed of de-Christianization in this land is striking, leaving believers without pastors and many communities without a Christian witness. The following pages take Chinese-speaking churches as a window to show the general situation in Europe.

In 1989, the Second Lausanne World Congress took place in Manila, Philippines. During this event, Luis Bush introduced the well-known concept of the “10/40 Window,” which has had a lasting impact on church mission endeavors. The term “10/40 Window” refers to the residents of the eastern hemisphere, along with people in the European and African parts of the western hemisphere, living between the north latitudes of 10 degrees and 40 degrees.1 They are considered the primary focus for collaborative evangelization efforts by churches and mission organizations worldwide. The rationale for such a strategy is fairly straightforward. Approximately 90% of the local population are non-believers. So they would remain if there were not a considerable number of missionaries living among them. As one can imagine, the missionary challenges in this region are extremely formidable and urgent. There is no single church or mission organization that can meet that challenge. Therefore, the introduction of the “10/40 Window” concept aimed to encourage global churches to use their missionary efforts strategically where they were most needed. This direction quickly gained acceptance and recognition among participants and has since been promoted worldwide by pastors and missionary organizations. Even today, churches continue to invest most, if not all, resources globally in missionary work within the “10/40 Window.”

However, note that when giving examples of countries in the “10/40 Window,” those areas with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and followers of other religions are most often highlighted. This undoubtedly captures the attention of viewers. Yet while these emphasized regions are indeed crucial missionary fields, it’s important to point out that some parts of southern Europe also fall within the “10/40 Window.” Despite this, few mission organizations define, or even consider, Europe as a mission field.

The reason why Europe has not become a focal point for various missionary organizations is clear. Throughout the 2000-year history of the Christian church, the majority of significant events in church history have unfolded in Europe—from the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul in Rome, the establishment of Christianity as the imperial faith, the missionary and crusading activities during the medieval period, to the Reformation, the formation of denominations, Puritan and pious movements, and the developments of both old and new orthodoxy. Furthermore, Christian missions in recent centuries have underlined the concept that European countries are mission forces. It’s well known that the London Missionary Society, founded in 1795, played a pivotal role in missionary endeavors, dispatching missionaries like Robert Morrison, David Livingstone, and Eric Liddell. After World War II, that renowned society, after merging with two other institutions, became the Council for World Mission, which remains active in missions today. It is, then, understandable that anyone familiar with church history would acknowledge that Europe has been a place for nurturing, cultivating, and sending missionaries and continues to be a significant force in global missions.

Unfortunately, reality today does not align with this historical legacy. Over the past century, atheism and the populations adhering to other religions have seen rapid growth in Europe. The decline of Christianity is very much evident. Churches shrink or close. Significantly fewer people identify as Christians. As Christianity declines, churches have fewer resources to put toward missions work, both within their own communities and beyond. Because of space limitations, the following analysis will mainly focus on presenting the plight of Chinese Christians in Europe.

After World War II, Europe witnessed an influx of the first wave of immigrants from Chinese-speaking regions. In the 1980s and 1990s with China’s opening up, there was an accelerated movement of Chinese immigrants to Europe, especially in Spain and Italy, with significant numbers coming from Zhejiang province. Some of those immigrants were believers already back in China. As they moved to Europe, they brought their Christian practices along with them. Chinese Bible studies and fellowships emerged in southern Europe during that period and eventually evolved into churches when attendance hit roughly 100 people.

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, there were several Chinese-speaking churches with more than 100 believers each in both Italy and Spain. To meet the pastoral needs of Chinese churches across Europe, the International Chinese Biblical Seminary in Europe (hereafter abbreviated as ICBSIE) was established in 2007, focusing on training Chinese ministers for Europe. Since then, the seminary has produced over 100 graduates serving in Chinese churches in 11 European countries. To put this in perspective, there are approximately 330 stable church-like gatherings for Chinese believers in Europe, with over 280 full-time ministers currently serving. Among these, 87 are graduates of ICBSIE.

The question that begs to be asked is this: Is this sufficient? The answer is clear—absolutely not, not even close. The existing Chinese-speaking churches still need many more ministers to establish roots and engage in long-term cultivation, not to mention reaching areas where there are currently no Chinese churches. According to various sources, there are approximately three million Chinese people scattered across Europe. If we calculate the average number of believers based on the ratio of local Chinese believers to the total Chinese population, Europe currently has around 25,000 to 30,000 believers. With over 280 pastors available, each minister would be responsible for shepherding around 100 believers. While this ratio might not seem problematic at first glance, there are two significant challenges to highlight: First, there are still over two million Chinese people in Europe waiting to hear the gospel, and second, the distribution of Chinese churches and pastors among the European Chinese population is extremely uneven.

As mentioned earlier, graduates of ICBSIE are dispersed across 11 European countries, while the European Union has 27 member countries. In other words, graduates have not yet served in more than half of the EU countries. Even if we include non-graduates in the count, the coverage extends to only 17 countries. The data straightforwardly present a fact: not every country has Chinese churches and ministers. Therefore, the theoretical assumption of one minister shepherding around 100 congregants is fundamentally unrealistic. The areas where Chinese Christians reside do not necessarily have ministers nearby. This uneven distribution is more severe in Eastern European countries like Romania, Belarus, Montenegro, and Latvia. The situation is not much better, however, in Western Europe. Take France as an example. According to statistics, around 700,000 Chinese people are spread across cities like Paris, Lille, Marseille, Lyon, and Toulouse. However, approximately 95% of Chinese churches and ministers are concentrated in Paris.

What causes such an uneven distribution of pastors? There are, of course, many reasons. One obvious factor is that large cities tend to have relatively higher Chinese populations, making it easier to establish churches and carry out ministry. Correspondingly, churches with more people and resources have the capability to train and hire full-time pastors, leading to better church development. This is a Matthew effect phenomenon—a healthy church attracts more resources and grows even bigger.2

At the same time, there are many areas with relatively sparse populations waiting for full-time ministers to go there for long-term cultivation and shepherding. The small churches and fellowships in these areas have been shrinking, due to the lack of full-time ministers. Fellowships and Bible studies that are even smaller lack the potential capacity to hire full-time ministers. Even if one of the believers were moved and burdened by the spiritual need of that particular fellowship, that individual would be less likely to step out and serve full-time since he or she knew the foreseeable and practical difficulties. This vicious cycle poses a significant challenge in many regions. Strategically speaking, many of those relatively small cities are less influenced by atheism and other religions. The Chinese residents are most likely to be as open to the Christian message as to other religions.

What can we do to respond, to turn Europe back from being a mission field to being a mission force? History has provided us with a model to draw from. Two hundred years ago, missionaries came to China to engage in evangelism and church planting. They were able to endure amid difficulties, primarily due to God’s grace. However, we also see that they were strongly supported by mission agencies in terms of spiritual well-being, human resources, and financial resources. The existence and operation of mission organizations, institutions that centralized the human, material, and financial resources of various churches, were key factors in the success of that golden missionary century. In the less densely populated areas of Europe where Chinese believers are not concentrated, the relatively weaker fellowships and Bible studies lack the ability to support the livelihood of full-time ministers. This is an undeniable fact. Can we pick up the kingdom mindset and courage of mission organizations in the nineteenth century and help more brothers and sisters who are willing to serve by alleviating some of their life concerns? This would enable them to engage more easily in the work of the kingdom and in building the church. May the Lord have mercy!

Europe’s Chinese churches need ministers just as much as each European country needs them. Although Europe was once one of the most active regions for sending missionaries, even as recently as the early twentieth century, it has now become a mission field requiring support and prayer from various missionary organizations and churches worldwide. Let’s pray to the Lord of the whole earth to place the needs and burdens of European churches within the hearts of his people, seeking a collective revival in this region that was once a thriving base for missions.


  1. For a brief overview, see “10/40 Window,” Wikimedia Foundation, last modified December 6, 2023,
  2. This term, borrowed from researchers in economics and social sciences, refers to the observation that those who have wealth tend to get wealthier, while those who are poor tend to become poorer. The term gets its name from Matthew 13:12, “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” In church growth terms, churches that are large and healthy tend to attract more members, while those that are small and struggling tend to lose members.
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Image credit: Tom Sekula via UnSplash.

Luke Zheng

Luke Zheng was born and raised in China. He holds a PhD in historical theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and serves as Academic Dean at International Chinese Biblical Seminary in Europe.View Full Bio