The Nordics and the Balkans couldn’t be farther apart. They represent polar extremes in Europe. In the winter, the Nordic city of Tromsø grows dark and freezes over, while the Balkan city of Athens, 5,000 miles to the south, is one of the sunniest places on earth.
Not surprisingly, the social outlook of the two regions also differs. In recent surveys, five Nordic nations (Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) rank in the top seven of the happiest countries on earth, whereas people in the Balkans tend to be restless and dissatisfied, eager to seek fortune in well-heeled countries to the north.
There is one point of commonality, however. It is the microscopically low numbers, in both regions, of Bible-believing Christians. There are reasons for this sad statistic.
Secularism and War
In the last century, the Nordic region has been swept away by secularism and the Balkans have been bedeviled by war. In the eyes of people of both regions, the gospel of Jesus Christ has become irrelevant. In some parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina, for example, true followers of Jesus represent less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the population, making it one of the places in the world least shaped by the gospel of Christ.
Thus, in at least two sectors of Europe (the continent which blessed us with the great Reformation) we look in anguish at vast swaths of humanity unprepared for eternity.
Yet if we take a closer look, we see something else—something dramatic, something revolutionary, something impossible to believe if it weren’t actually true. In both the Nordics and the Balkans, increasing numbers of people are resonating with the good news of Christ. In spite of skepticism in the north and yearning for upward mobility in the south, people are entrusting their lives to Jesus.
In both the Nordics and the Balkans, increasing numbers of people are resonating with the good news of Christ.
Most extraordinarily, many of the new believers are young adults. Some are in university, and others just starting professional careers—yet they share a passion to throw themselves, boldly and unreservedly, into the work of Christ in the world.
This exciting reality was abundantly clear at two recent regional gatherings, when The Gospel Coalition hosted its first conferences in both the Nordics (Copenhagen, Denmark) and the northern Balkans (Osijek, Croatia). Each conference focused on the gospel of Christ—what it is, how it works, and why it is important. Each featured expository preaching—in which speakers worked through and explained biblical texts. Each was planned and executed largely by indigenous Nordic and Balkan leaders.
And people came, young adults came, from all six Nordic countries and from six countries of southeastern Europe. Together, we made an electrifying discovery. When Christians hailing from outposts of a sprawling continent, where they feel isolated in spiritually barren towns and cities, come together for worship, their songs reach unearthly heights, as though sung by the voices of angels.
When Christians hailing from outposts of a sprawling continent come together for worship, their songs reach unearthly heights.
For one young man from Bosnia-Herzegovina, a recent convert to Christ from another religion, singing praises to God with other Christians was an unprecedented delight. “I cannot tell you how moving it was to be a part of a big group of believers for four days. When I returned to my work as an IT consultant, I found myself crying at intervals, and not sure why. I think it was the profound memory of joining together with so many other believers in praise of a gracious God and his Son Jesus Christ.”
We came together, in a coalition, united in Christ, to pray for our regions, to return to our churches with new purpose and vigor. We saw from the lens of Scripture how the Lord can work powerfully through a people corporately—discovering that we can do more for the gospel of Christ together than we can do apart.
After the conference, one Swedish pastor put it like this: “I am absolutely convinced that the time for genuine gospel partnership in the Nordics is now! God is moving. Gospel people are being connected. The potential is huge. My prayer and longing is for a united, vibrant gospel partnership across the Nordics in which we together seek the glory of the Lord Jesus in building up the church and reaching the lost. Thank you so much to The Gospel Coalition for your commitment to this work.”
Uniting for Future Ministry
Within a fortnight, 25 Nordic pastors met by Zoom to pray and ask the Lord how they could move further for his glory. They intend to meet in Oslo, Norway, in February to plan, with the Lord’s help, the next concrete steps for the future.
Similarly in southeast Europe, pastors in Croatia and Serbia and Albania are already planning future gatherings in which to dig deeper into the good news of Jesus Christ and to think about how to disseminate the hope of the gospel to the spiritually needy of their region.
In short, Christianity in Europe is not a geriatric religion dying out. It is drawing new life from growing numbers of young adults who are prepared to invest themselves for the extension of the gospel of Christ on their continent.
True, in many ways the Nordics and the Balkans are polar opposites. But they share a common need. Writing shortly after the conference in Copenhagen, another young Swedish pastor affirmed: “There are many important things, but only one thing on which our lives can stand—Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).