The “Amens!” flew like popcorn in hot oil as 120 Christian worshipers clapped and danced and praised Jesus as if He’d just walked into the room. In a country where about 2 percent of the population attend church regularly and many churches draw barely enough worshipers to fill a single pew, the Sunday morning service at this old mission hall was one rocking celebration.
In the middle of all the keyboards, drums and hallelujahs, Stendor Johansen, a blond Danish sea captain built like a 180-pound ice cube, sang along and danced, as he said, like a Dane — without moving.
“The Danish church is boring,” said Johansen, 45, who left the state-run Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church three years ago and joined this high-octane interdenominational church run by a missionary pastor from Singapore. “I feel energized when I leave one of these services.”
The International Christian Community (ICC) is one of about 150 churches in Denmark that are run by foreigners, many from Africa, Asia and Latin America, part of a growing trend of preachers from developing nations coming to Western Europe to set up new churches or to try to reinvigorate old ones.
For centuries, when Europe was the global center of Christianity, millions of European missionaries traveled to other continents to spread their faith by establishing schools and churches. Now, with European church attendance at all-time lows and a dearth of preachers in the pulpits, thousands of “reverse missionaries” are flocking back, migrating from poor countries to rich ones to preach the Gospel where it has fallen out of fashion.
The phenomenon signals a fundamental shift in the power, style and geography of Christianity, the world’s largest religion. Most of its more than 2 billion adherents now live in the developing world. And as vast numbers of them migrate to Europe, as well as to the United States, they are filling pews and changing worship styles.
Churches in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, South Korea and the Philippines have sent thousands of missionaries to Europe to set up churches in homes, office buildings and storefronts. Officials from the Redeemed Christian Church of God, a Pentecostal church based in Nigeria, said they have 250 churches in Britain now and plan to create 100 more this year. Britain’s largest church, run by a Nigerian pastor in London, attracts up to 12,000 people over three services every Sunday.