Mention the Nordic countries of Northern Europe, and beautiful scenery, cutting-edge technology, and a generally flourishing economy likely come to mind. But even prosperous nations need the love and saving power of Jesus Christ, and this region is primed for a fresh move of God.
Assemblies of God World Missions Europe Regional Director Larry Henderson and Northern Europe Area Director Stephen Wallace observe that the Nordic nations, which include Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, share the problem of secularism. Sources such as the Joshua Project show Christian majority percentages in these countries, but the number of actively engaged evangelicals is much lower. While Pentecostal movements in the Nordics have a rich history of faith and missions, the region’s numbness toward religion has taken its toll.
Wallace recalls early in his ministry in Helsinki, Finland, a tour guide explaining that a local cathedral was now used only for weddings and other such occasions, since church had become largely irrelevant.
“Secularism could be considered the region’s predominant faith,” says Wallace, “although traditions and customs run deep. It’s not uncommon to hear songs at school graduations containing references to the Christian faith because it’s tradition. That, however, is starting to be challenged.”
“There’s a self-centered focus,” Henderson adds. “It’s not atheism, necessarily. People just don’t consider God relevant.” There is a “legalistic conservative” experience born from Lutheran or Catholic backgrounds, but few actually attend church, he explains.
Change is happening, however, much of it occurring within immigrant communities and on university campuses.
With conflicts happening around world, Nordic nations are home to many displaced people groups. They are also popular with international students seeking advanced degrees in technology and businesses.
Among these populations, international and international-friendly congregations have the potential to make a big impact. Whereas larger cities host more students, even smaller communities have welcomed many new arrivals, and local churches have been strengthened as they reach out to these growing international groups.
Reaching these individuals requires authentic relationships, Henderson says.
“We pray for the Holy Spirit to show effective ways to evangelize,” he adds. “People are not impressed by church as a show. They need to learn that a real encounter with Jesus Christ gives peace and identity.”
With so few pastors in many communities, the Nordic nations present a golden opportunity for missionaries, who move to the area to serve by getting involved in their communities, hosting small groups, assisting at English-speaking church plants, and just building friendships.
Jeremy and Lisbet Siebert are doing exactly that. After pastoring a missions-minded church in Oregon for 15 years, Jeremy felt an unmistakable prompting while praying at a pastors’ summit. God called the pair to plant a church in Norway. During a phone call, Henderson informed them that Pentecostal leaders in the country had just told leadership they needed church planters, particularly those willing to reach out to internationals.
Lisbet is Norwegian, but even with her background, the Sieberts faced cultural adjustments. Their 21-year-old son helps with the church plant. Their 19-year-old has returned to the United States to attend college, and their 12-year-old has had to adapt to a new school environment. They have also been faced challenges because of the secularist culture.
“Norway is such an affluent country,” says Jeremy. “The social welfare system takes care of many things that, traditionally, churches would have done. Instead of seeking God or even the church for help, people go to the government. Even churches in Norway receive much of their funding from the government.”
Despite these challenging circumstances, Jeremy stresses that God is still at work as these hungry people search for meaning and purpose.
Daniel Alm, general superintendent of Pingst, the Swedish Pentecostal Alliance for Independent Churches, recently shared with Wallace:
“In Sweden, we are trying to remain faithful to the call and mission given on the day of Pentecost, in a culture where secularism seems to be the new religion and individualism also puts challenges upon the church. But that situation also provides many opportunities. People are lonely and need God.”
At a recent pastors’ conference, 200 foreign attendees joined 650 Swedish pastors. The Swedish movement is aligning with broader efforts, praying for renewed church planting efforts and more leaders. Swedish Pentecostals have joined with Nordic sister movements to form the Pentecostal Nordic Fellowship, addressing key issues of leadership, church planting, and social involvement.
Øystein Gjerme, leader of the Norwegian Pentecostal Movement (Pinsebevegelsen), is also excited about unity and collaboration among Pentecostals in the Nordic countries. Already sending missionaries to countries on four continents, Norwegian leaders are focusing on unreached groups and urban mission, as well as assisting migrant church leaders there in Norway. Gjerme hopes to see the church answer these challenges by building caring communities.
Throughout Sweden and Norway, Pentecostal denominations are making historic moves toward unity in their mission to see the people of their nations recognize Jesus as Lord. Wallace adds that having more laborers, even individuals from the United States, will be a vital component of these renewed efforts.
“In many nations of the world, it is not uncommon for our workers to be in partnership with Nordic missionaries,” Wallace says. “I pray we would do the same here among their nations in the days ahead. I appreciate the heart of our Nordic leaders and the way they support, resource, and believe together. We need more workers because, through the eyes of faith, we see a harvest coming to these great lands.”
This article originally appeared in Worldview magazine. Used with permission.