Missions in Greece

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Population
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People Groups
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% Christian (Other)
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% Evangelical Christian

Background

Overview

Greece achieved independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. During the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, it gradually added neighboring islands and territories, most with Greek-speaking populations. In World War II, Greece was first invaded by Italy (1940) and subsequently occupied by Germany (1941-44); fighting endured in a protracted civil war between supporters of the king and other anti-communist and communist rebels. Following the latter’s defeat in 1949, Greece joined NATO in 1952. In 1967, a group of military officers seized power, establishing a military dictatorship that suspended many political liberties and forced the king to flee the country. In 1974, democratic elections and a referendum created a parliamentary republic and abolished the monarchy. In 1981, Greece joined the EC (now the EU); it became the 12th member of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in 2001. Since 2010, the prospect of a Greek default on its euro-denominated debt has created severe strains within the EMU and raised the question of whether a member country might voluntarily leave the common currency or be removed.

Christianity
Christian History

Christianity came to Greece in the first century by way of the Apostle Paul.  We know from Scripture of his ministry in Greece, particularly in Philippi, Corinth, and Athens.  Despite persecution, the Church took root and grew in Greece.

When Constantine became emperor of the Roman Empire in the middle of the 4th century, establishing Christianity as the official religion of the empire he established his new capitol at Byzantium (which he renamed Constantinople).  When the Roman Empire split after Constantine’s death, the eastern part of the empire remained centered around Constantinople; its culture was essentially Greek.  As the Western Roman Empire progressed toward Roman Catholicism, the eastern portions of the Empire (the Byzantine Empire) moved towards Eastern Orthodoxy.  Even after the Byzantine Empire was conquered by the Ottomans the Orthodox Church continued to develop and thrive.  The Greek Orthodox Church was not officially founded until the mid-1800s however, when the independent kingdom of Greece was established, bringing an end to the Ottoman domination of Greece.

The Orthodox Church (whether during Ottoman rule or after the Greek Orthodox Church was officially established) has always been an integral part of Greek life.  Currently, well over 90% of the Greek population claim to be Greek Orthodox.  The Greek Orthodox Church is a cultural force; it sets the holiday calendar each year, transmits and preserves Greek history, art, literature, and music, and affects the daily and weekly lives of its adherents.  The Greek Orthodox Church is under the protection and authority of the Greek government and is expressly granted the status of Greece’s “prevailing” religion by the Greek Constitution.

The growth of Protestant/Evangelical churches in Greece is slow.  There are laws against proselytism which discourage the sharing of the Gospel and penalize Orthodox Church members who decide to convert to another denomination.  Even the Roman Catholic Church, the world’s largest Christian religious group, is sparsely represented in the Greek population.  There are currently more Muslims in Greece than there are Roman Catholics and Protestants/Evangelicals combined.

Some statistics suggest that, even though the Greek Orthodox Church will remain the dominant religion of Greece, its numbers will decrease in the coming decades, while the number of Muslims in Greece is expected to increase.

Source: World Christian Encyclopedia

Religions
Non-Christian

Islam

A small, but distinct, Muslim minority exists in Greece.  Most of the Muslim population can be attributed to the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923.  In 1923, around 1.22 million Greeks who had been living in Turkey returned to Greece.  While living in Turkey many of them had converted to Islam.  Today it is estimated that 3.3% of Greece’s population is Muslim.  The Turkish population is concentrated in eastern Thrace (the area of Greece closest to Turkey).  Muslims are Greece’s only officially recognized religious minority.

Jewish

Greece has a very small Jewish population, as well.  In 1943 there were approximately 75,000 Jews living in Greece.  Almost all of that population was either deported or systematically executed during the German occupation of World War II.  In 2000 it was estimated that only 5,000 Jews lived in Greece, accounting for only 0.1% of the population.

Non-Religious

Atheists comprise 0.2% of Greece’s population while a more sizeable 1.7% of Greeks claim to be nonreligious.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses first entered Greece in 1900 and have grown steadily since that time.  They have a strong presence in Athens and can also be found in many small towns and villages.  Currently there are over 430 Jehovah’s Witness congregations in Greece. 27500 members are claimed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They outnumber any other non-Orthodox denomination, including the Roman Catholic Church.

Orthodox and Catholic Churches

The Greek Orthodox  Church

The Greek Orthodox Church is the official state church of Greece; it is under the protection of the Greek government.  Some estimates indicate that 98% of Greece’s population is at least marginally Greek Orthodox.  A more accurate estimate would probably be 95%.  The roots of Orthodoxy in Greece stretch back to the Byzantine Empire but the Greek Orthodox Church was not founded until Greece was free from Ottoman control on the mid 1800s.  Today, Greece is the only country in the world that is officially Eastern Orthodox and has the Orthodox Church as its official state church.

Some statistics suggest that the Greek Orthodox Church will begin to lose some of its adherents in the coming decades.  Islam, however, is expected to grow in Greece.  The Greek Orthodox Church, while an important cultural institution, does not preach the true Gospel and is not a transforming force in the culture; that makes is defenseless against the spread of Islam.

Roman Catholic

Approximately 0.6% of Greece’s population is Roman Catholic.  Latin, Byzantine, and Armenian rites are all represented in Greece, the Latin being the most important.  There are nine Latin ecclesiastical divisions and one each of Byzantine and Armenian.  About 80% of the Greek Catholics belong to the worker and peasant classes.  Catholicism is slowly increasing among students, intellectuals, and businessmen.

Protestants/Evangelicals/Pentecostals

Greece has two main Protestant denominations. The Protestant community is Greece is now estimated to be 4,000 constituents.  The growth of all Protestant/Evangelical groups in Greece is slow partly due to the strict laws about proselytism in Greece. Protestants are sometimes arrested for sharing their faith with a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.  Protestant ministers are only permitted to minister to members of their churches.

The Greek Evangelical Church

The Greek Evangelical Church was founded in 1858.  The Church reports 32 congregations with over 2000 members.

The Free Evangelical Churches of Greece

The Church was founded in 1908 and has 63 congregations with over 4000 members.

The Free Apostolic Church

This Church has over 140 congregations with more than 10,000 members

Assemblies of God

The Assemblies of God report 14 congregations and around 500 members.

Other smaller evangelical groups exist, as well.

Source: World Christian Encyclopedia

Challenges
Missiological Implications

Greeks are very religious people; their lives revolve around the Church.  However, they lack a true understanding of the Gospel and have no concept of a personal relationship with God through Jesus.

There are multiple people groups living in Greece, as well as large numbers of unregistered guest workers and countless tourists that visit Greece during peak vacation seasons.  While the Greek government officially states that proselytizing is against the law, it is still possible to share the Gospel openly in Greece.  Greece is an ideal location for evangelizing these minority groups and encouraging them to return to their home countries/people groups and become missionaries and church planters among their own people.

  1. Evangelical Christians and Churches should seek to develop evangelistic approaches to persons in the Orthodox Church. These methods should be taught to Christians in Greece (and other areas dominated by the Orthodox Church.
  2. Evangelical Christians and Churches should seek to evangelize the large numbers of immigrant peoples (over 500,000 Albanians live in Greece), Serbs (30.000), Roma (300,000), and Macedonians (160,000). Other groups who have sought safety in Greece could be open to evangelistic efforts.
  3. Evangelical Christians and Churches should seek to evangelize the vast numbers of Greeks who live outside of Greece. These peoples are estimated at around 5 million in 88 different countries (almost 2 million in the USA and one-half million in Germany). These Greeks could be evangelized and encouraged to return to evangelize their country.
  4. Evangelical Christians and Churches should seek means to reach out to the large segment of the Greek population that is suffering drug addiction (as many as 200,000).
  5. Evangelical Christians and Churches should seek means to evangelize the peoples in the Greek Islands that are mostly unevangelized.
  6. Evangelical Christians and Churches should seek to aid the Greek Christians in training leadership for the movement in Greece.
  7. Evangelical Christians and Churches should introduce the strategies relating to small group evangelism and house churches to seek evangelization and church planting while avoiding legal action against them.

Our Strategy

In recent years, Greece’s economic crisis has occupied the headlines of major newspapers around the world. The church does not escape this reality. Since the crisis began, a large percentage of local churches have closed their doors due to finances and member emigration to other EU countries. Our church has persevered during this time, but with some losses. We have also seen a drop in financial contributions causing us to accrue temporary debt. Some of our members have also moved to other EU countries in search of employment better opportunities. Losing young adults and professionals destabilizes the vision and mission of the church going forward.

Local Church

commissionWe believe the local church is the key to the Kingdom of God in Greece. Our strategy is to invest time and resources in strengthening Glyfada Christian Center. Andre is part of the pastoral team and administrative committee. He devotes considerable time to teaching and preaching, but also helps wherever he can around the office. He disciples and meets with people regularly. Molly has been using her knowledge and experience as an educator with a masters in elementary education to serve the church. She’s helping spearhead an effort to restructure our children’s ministry. Her aim is to build a solid ministry among the children.

Local Community

20160110_112153We believe in incarnational ministry. The church has a responsibility to the community where it is inserted. One of our principal strategies is to spend time becoming a part of our local neighborhood. To achieve this, we are learning the language, becoming culturally sensitive and developing relationship with individuals outside the church. We build community through hospitality, kindness and through mercy ministries that take place regularly in and around our local church.

Local Awareness

1924083_45918147736_798_nAlong with building the local church, we also plan to travel in order to raise awareness about Greece as a mission field. Our residency visas also allows us to move freely throughout Europe and back. Andre hopes to use this freedom to strengthen relationships with pastors and missionaries serving in Europe he met while attending Fuller Seminary. The goal is to network, raise awareness and funding for the local church and workers active in Greece. The European Church has its roots in Greece and could serve as a support structure to ensure that the Greek church can survive and thrive in the years to come.

How You Can Help

We need your help! The challenges before us are enormous and your partnership is indispensable. Mission is a corporate venture involving those who are sent and those who send. We believe that we are specifically called to serve the mission of God in Greece. Just like every disciple is called to deny themselves and carry their cross, being a missionary in Greece is not easy. But you can actively participate in this effort by partnering with us by giving, praying and sharing about our mission with your church and friends. Click on each tab below to know more.

Giving
You can give easily and securely using your credit card via Paypal or WePay. If you are located in the USA, all gifts are tax-deductible through AMID World Mission and its 501(c)3 non-profit status. Your gifts will go directly to support mission projects in Greece and abroad.

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