Reaching Austria

Houses alongside a river in Salzburg
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December 2, 2019
A man praying with the sunrise
Pray for Nasir!
January 21, 2020
Photo of an Austrian landscape with a rural small community

How will the Austrians hear the Gospel? What about all the people that live outside of the cities? More and more we are feeling called to plant a church among Austrians.

How will Austria be reached?

As we wrap up our ministry to refugees, we have been praying that God would guide us to our new ministry. There are so many open doors. We could work with refugees in another Austrian city, or serve refugees in another country. We prayed about returning to Tajikistan, where we met. But more and more, we have become convinced that God is calling us to plant a new church in Austria.

In the 1990s, the evangelical churches had the goal of at least one evangelical church in each community with 5,000 or more people. It seems, that this goal has long been forgotten. There are so many communities with no evangelical church nor even a home group. At the same time, there are very few German language church planting projects in the country, and those that we know of are almost exclusively based in one of the nine provincial capitals. We are thankful to see these urban church plants, but the countryside often has little to no Gospel witness. We have been studying the church landscape and have identified several areas that are ready for a new church plant.

Our search criteria are towns with 5,000-15,000 people with no "free church" of any kind. A free church is a European term for an evangelical church, including Baptists, conservative Bible churches, Pentecostal churches, Mennonites, and some others. We are also looking for areas where there is net positive migration. More people should be moving to the area than moving away from the area. We were able to identify several towns that fulfilled the first criteria, but were losing people each year. These areas tend to be aging quickly, and we expect that the people who remain are less likely to be open to a new church or a new understanding of the Gospel. Finally, we are looking for "a man of peace". In Luke 10, Jesus talks about a man of peace who welcomes the evangelist. We are praying that God would guide us to a person or group already in the area who are praying that we would join them.

The first location we are looking at is our immediate surroundings, the Fuschlsee Region. It doesn't fulfill the first requirement of a town with at least 5,000 people, but taken together the towns of the area have over 10,000 people. The area is close to Salzburg, so those believers that live in the area have churches that they can travel to, but new Christians may not be willing to make the 20 to 30-minute drive into the city. The advantage of this location is that we have already built up relationships in the area and wouldn't have to move. We could also recruit Christians from the surrounding churches to join us in the church plant.

In Tirol, Tabita's home state, there are a few locations that would fulfill our criteria. Schwarz is a town with 13,000 people. Over the years, there have been several attempts to start a free church in this town, but each attempt ended unsuccessfully. We aren't sure where the difficulty lay. Part of the issue seems to be that, like the Fuschlsee region, Schwarz is about 20 to 30 minutes to a larger city. In this case, Innsbruck. Those Christians that live in the area travel each week to more established churches, rather than attending a smaller church in the region. Also, the existing bible believing Christians in an area are never a homogenous group and it can be difficult to create community among the diverse theological convictions.

We have several other locations that we are considering and are praying that God would guide us where we should go.

Could this be our next ministry?

Church planting among Austrians is probably a more challenging task than refugee ministry. Across Austria, the most growth is seen among migrant groups, especially among refugees. This makes sense. Migrants are looking for community, and refugees have often rejected their home culture's worldview and are seeking a new way of life. In contrast, Austrians are mostly living their daily routines. For the most part, they have their existing community, and they aren't questioning their worldview. They don't see that they need a new start or a savior. However, we feel that Austrians are more open to the Gospel than anytime in the last fifty years.

When Tabita's parents came out as Bible believing Christians in the 1980s, they were immediately ostracized. Her father, who was working for the town as a bookkeeper, was dismissed, and they were considered to be members of a cult. Now, it is a common occurrence for people to leave the traditional church, and thousands do so every year with no social repercussions. There is also much more openness to alternative spirituality. Yoga, Buddhism, Reiki and Shamanism are much more accepted than before. For Austrians, "free churches" belong on this list of alternative religious groups. Whereas previous generations rejected biblical teaching out of social pressure or religious conviction, younger people are free to explore what the Bible teaches. Most have never seriously engaged with the Bible and they have never heard that the Bible could be relevant for their daily lives.

We feel that our experience shaping and leading the Farsi speaking church has prepared us to create a new type of church among Austrians. We dream of a church that would serve Austrians who have never connected with the traditional churches. The refugees who came had so many questions and came without a Christian worldview. Many of their questions are questions that Austrians also have. Our hope is that we will be able to communicate the good news of a fulfilled life in Christ to a new generation of Austrians.