‘God Is About to Do Something in Germany’: Churches Unify to Reach Their Country for Christ

By   •   October 1, 2022

Church leaders who attended a two-day Evangelism Summit in western Germany expressed their appreciation and great need for an event like this to bring them together and strengthen their outreach to those who don't know Christ.

Things like this don’t normally happen here—church leaders from different denominations coming together in Germany for a united purpose of evangelism.

More often, it’s one denomination over here, another over there, each doing their own ministry while church attendance steadily declines and churches gradually have to shut their doors. Last year was the first on record in Germany where less than half the population belonged to a church, according to official reports, compared to 61% just 15 years ago.

Yet this weekend, more than 550 pastors and congregational leaders gathered for an Evangelism Summit hosted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Düsseldorf—a city in western Germany divided by the Rhine River—to unify, mobilize, and spur one another on in spreading the Gospel.

Pastors, evangelists, and Christian professors led sessions on preaching the essential message of the cross, raising up the next generation of discipled Christ followers, and defending the Gospel.

Excited chatter over coffee and pastries, engaging conversation in the venue lobby, and passionate worship all emphasized just how well this summit was received. Over and over, those in attendance were encouraged not to focus on their differences but on the most important thing they have in common: a love for Jesus Christ and desire to share Him with others.

“If the church doesn’t evangelize, the church will die,” Franklin Graham said pointedly during a video greeting to the crowd. There’s “Holy Spirit-filled power” in the Gospel, he said, adding that he’s praying thousands of Germans will come to know Christ through the efforts of the local church.

A Franklin Graham Festival originally planned to take place in Cologne a couple of years ago was postponed due to COVID-19, but before the two-day summit wrapped up Saturday, there was one more announcement: An evangelistic Festival will take place next year in Essen, just an hour north of Cologne.

Across the crowd were gasps and applause in response to the surprise announcement, and following the event, many filled out interest cards to stay updated on the Festival and how they can be a part of it.

Adjo Felicité Goé was on board to assist with the Cologne Festival a couple of years back, and immediately following the announcement about the Festival of Hope in Essen next October, she was already asking how she can be involved. The location, she said, makes no difference.

“Cologne, Essen, it’s still Germany,” she said with a smile.

Of great importance during Billy Graham’s seven decades of ministry was equipping local churches for evangelism. This weekend in Düsseldorf, church leaders from various denominations stood side by side for prayer, worship, and teaching. Billy Graham preached in Düsseldorf in 1954, as well as the following cities across Germany: Berlin (1954, 1960, 1966, 1990); Dortmund (1955, 1970); Frankfurt (1954, 1955); Hamburg (1960); Mannheim (1955); Nuremberg (1955, 1963); and Stuttgart (1955, 1963).

The Church Planter

Heinrich Löwen is a public school teacher in his mid-30s. For the past couple of months, he’s been helping plant a church in Essen, which involves meeting new people in the community and talking to them about Jesus.

For a large part of the population in Germany, going to church is something you do at Christmas, “but people are not interested in the message,” he said.

At a recent meeting with seven other pastors, Löwen said he learned one pastor closed his church two years ago and another is closing his this weekend. Many churches have few young families, and some are using just a fraction of their available space.

Still, as a religion teacher, he’s encouraged by his students’ curiosity and interest in Christianity. While his few German students are more skeptical, most of the children he teaches are refugees from the Middle East, Ukraine, and other countries—and they’re full of questions.

During the summit, he said, the Holy Spirit impressed upon him to pray for the people he meets across Essen and ask for guidance in explaining the Gospel to them, particularly among his fellow teachers.

The Transplants

Standing in line for lunch between sessions, Guilian and Leah Nkamga said they lead an evangelism team at their church in Hanover. He’s from Cameroon, she’s from Canada, and both want to tell as many people about Jesus as they can. They came to the summit to learn what others are doing to reach their communities for Christ.

“Some people say, ‘I’m not interested in church, I’m not interested in God,’ but then they open up,” said Leah, explaining how their church is involved in street evangelism. Part of the evangelism team’s goal is to equip team members to answer tough questions that might be raised.

The Nkamgas were motivated by summit speakers calling for the crowd to move forward as one church, not individual churches staying in their bubble.

“This is what my heart is burning for,” said Guilian. “I hope this dream comes alive, that we all come together. … I feel connected with the people here even though I don’t know them.”

Speakers like Pastor Friedhelm Holthuis urged those gathered to follow Christ closely so their daily lives are a witness to the power of the Gospel.

The Businessman

Among the leaders in attendance was Emil Roller, a businessman from nearby Bonn. Thanks largely to his grandparents, Roller became a Christian at age 20 and now works in finance. He helped organize the weekend summit and said it’s just as important for him to evangelize as it is for pastors.

People might talk more transparently to a businessman than a pastor, Roller said, so he’s in a position to reach different people. Roller has encouraged his clients to pray about tough situations and given out Bibles for them to learn more about Jesus.

Clients are often surprised to receive a Bible from someone in finance, but only once has a person turned it down. All the others have received it with gratitude.

The Volunteers

Across the room from Roller, a group of mostly young volunteers in white button-down Evangelism Summit shirts were hard to miss at the entrance to a large conference room.

Esther Giller, 24, was one of them.

A newlywed, Giller said she and her husband weren’t raised in Christian homes, but since she accepted Christ five years ago, her friends have noticed a big difference.

Lively and brimming over with pure joy, Giller unashamedly talked about the need not only to tell people how they can find peace in Jesus Christ, but to invest in others and show them how to follow Christ through discipleship.

Since the start of COVID-19, Giller has known of a number of people to accept Christ, desperate for something to put their hope and trust in. But there’s still much work to do.

“We see that a lot of Christians are just asleep,” she said, which is why she was thrilled at the Evangelism Summit to witness others’ passion for preaching the Gospel and discipling new believers.

In her own circle of friends, some have shown interest in her faith, but most see religion “as something you keep private and you don’t proclaim so loudly or talk about openly.”

While a lot of people wear cross necklaces, Giller wears a silver Star of David necklace with a cross in the middle to start conversations on the symbol’s significance. It’s just one way to open the door to sharing the Gospel.

Another volunteer, 34-year-old Christina Achterberg, attends church in Cologne. With a radiant smile on her face, she said it’s imperative for believers to lovingly live out their faith. Evangelism isn’t about church events, she said, but about clearly and uncompromisingly communicating the Gospel, which is always true and relevant.

The Vision

Some who attended the summit have been around long enough to remember when such an event was hardly fathomable. Cecil and Linda Elijah are one example.

In 1990, the Nigerian couple was living in Bulgaria when God told Cecil to go to Germany in three days.

When Cecil was in the military, he said he’d never go to Germany, but there was God’s voice, plain as day.

The couple had no idea how they’d get there and had little money, but through a series of God moments, the Lord provided the means for Cecil and Linda to make it to Germany and now pastor a church in Cologne with members from countries like Africa, India, and South Korea.

“I love the nation. I love Germany. I want to see Germans saved in multitudes,” said Cecil.

When he thinks back 30 years ago, he said, “It was very difficult to work with the different denominations.” The couple lived in a one-room apartment where they would invite others over for Bible study while trying to learn German. There was a lot of division at that time, he said, as “the unity was not there.”

Since then, Cecil said, the church has changed a lot.

“What we see today [at the summit], some years ago, you could not dream of this… . Churches of different denominations coming together, having one vision to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Germany.”

When asked why she thinks God called a Nigerian couple to serve in Germany, Linda said many Germans “believe they have everything”—a job, education, possessions—but many are empty inside. When Christian refugees come to the country with nothing but are full of joy, many Germans wonder where that joy comes from.

Cecil and Linda are eagerly sharing the hope they have with others ahead of the upcoming Festival of Hope in Essen.

“I know that God is about to do something in Germany,” said Cecil, “and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it will spread like a wildfire.”

The city of Düsseldorf is midway between Cologne and Essen, with the Rhine River running through it. When asked at the Evangelism Summit in Düsseldorf who attended Billy Graham’s 1993 Crusade just half an hour north in Essen, many raised their hands. Christian newspaper publisher Norman Rentrop shared during the summit how he gave his life to Christ at that Crusade. Essen will also be the site of next fall’s Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham.