Global Conversations on Discipleship: Discipleship and Community Engagement in Germany
By Mighty Rasing
How do United Methodists minister in a post-Christian society?
In this episode, Mighty Rasing, director of Central Conference relationships for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church, interviews Rev. Dr. Barry Sloan, director of evangelism of the Germany Central Conference of The United Methodist Church, about evangelism and discipleship in Germany.
In Germany, many people no longer affiliate with any church or religion. Sloan talks about creative approaches to evangelism such as the mission bus, the tent ministry, and an inflatable church that brings the church to where the people are. Sloan also talks about reaching different types of people—including atheists and refugees—in Chemnitz, Germany, through the "Inspire Chemnitz" project.
Sloan’s work involves church planting, Fresh Expressions, and congregational development. In addition to his work with The United Methodist Church, he serves as the Europe Partnership Coordinator of the British Methodist Church.
The Mission Bus
The mission bus is one of the tools of the “Tent Mission” United Methodist Church in Germany. The mission bus is a double-decker bus that can be used as a mobile café. It has an “Escape Room” upstairs where people can solve puzzles and play games.
In addition to the bus, the Evangelism department has ten marquee tents that can accommodate up to six hundred people for events and other gatherings.
They engage in the following creative ways of doing ministry:
- Creative arts
- Sports, such as indoor table tennis competitions
- Culinary events
- Inflatables, including an inflatable church and a mobile stage.
Engaging People in a Post-Christian Society
Sloan says ministry in a post-Christian society in East Germany, means:
- the percentage of people who are atheists or who do not have religious views is approaching 90 percent.
- the legacy of the atheistic Communist state is still felt, especially because the state painted the church as an enemy.
- people are not just de-churched or disinterested. In many cases, they are anti-church. They also have misconceptions about the church and about Christians.
- many people don’t know anything about Christianity.
Evangelism is all about the good news that there’s a God there that wants to do life with you and that created you and that reaches his hand out to you every day and basically just invites you and say: ‘hey come, let’s do life together’ . . . to me that’s good news and that’s what motivates me to be an evangelist; to be a Christian and want to tell others about this good news.
Stories of Engagement in Germany and Europe
In one instance, Sloan and his team took their inflatable church —which looks like an Eastern Orthodox Church—to a market where many people pass by. Some people got curious, entered the inflatable church, and saw the artworks and displays inside. The inflatable church provided an opportunity for people to enter a church (some, for the first time), light a candle, or utter a prayer.
Losing Members and Rethinking Church
Churches in Germany, particularly the two state churches (Roman Catholic Church and Lutheran Church), are losing members. The church in general has been in decline for the past thirty to forty years.
Sloan says that if we refocus and rethink church to serve folks in our neighborhoods instead of focusing on ourselves, we can engage the people around us and help them connect with the faith.
Sloan also talked about project Inspire Chemnitz and how it is engaging a community of 250,000 people, Through Inspire Chemnitz, Sloan and his team are doing the following activities with the community:
- Urban gardening and tidying up the neighborhood
- A coffee shop and Monday songwriters’ gatherings
- English language courses for senior citizens
- Wine tastings and whiskey tastings (with a respectful approach to alcohol)
- Work with refugee children and German children from disadvantaged families
- Bridge-building and reconciliation ministry
To learn more about Inspire Chemnitz, view the Discipleship Ministries-produced documentary, “On the Brühl,” which tells the story.
Mighty Rasing is the Director of Central Conference Relationships at Discipleship Ministries.