Creativity a Must for Reaching European Teens
"One of my greatest fears is to become irrelevant," says Felix Ortiz of Spain. "I don't want to hold on to methods that once worked but don't any more, because times are changing."
Felix leads Discover, Campus Crusade's high-school ministry in Spain, and epitomizes a generation of Europeans finding new ways to carry the gospel to their culture.
In Western Europe, people connect Christianity with empty cathedrals -- more museum piece than living faith. Only 4 or 5% attend any kind of church. And in European countries once part of the Soviet bloc, the interest in Christianity that flared after the fall of the Iron Curtain has since faded.
As Pastor Leho Paladre of Tartu, Estonia, says, "People are too busy figuring out how to survive in a capitalistic society to think much about God."
So evangelism efforts have become creative, in both East and West, often wrapped around storytelling.
Felix and his team, for example, developed El Sistema, a CD that includes the story of teenage computer hackers living in a world destroyed by nuclear holocaust.
Drawing elements from The Matrix movie blockbusters, comic books and computers, El Sistema leads people on a search for a file containing ancient wisdom. Ultimately, the listener must go to the Internet to read the file, which is a portion of Scripture.
During a pilot project, Spanish schoolteachers passed out 45,000 El Sistema CDs. Nearly 80% of teens with Internet access went to the Web site for more information.
Farther north, in Great Britain, staff members Joel and Danielle Wilson have begun Throwstar, an outreach to musicians and the arts community. Recently Throwstar put together an outreach called Yarn Spinners, billed as "an evening with world-class story-tellers, slam poets and hip-hop fabulists."
Romanian campus ministries have seen extremely positive response to short films with a spiritual message.
Produced by Christians and non-Christians alike, these films were submitted to the DAMAH Film Festival, an American event that showcases such productions. Romanian campus staff members use the films to surface longings and needs of the soul. Thus far 7,000 students have viewed the films in Romania, often in small-group settings where they discuss the content afterward.
Another creative evangelism project in Romania involves the evangelistic magazine Fitzuica (Cheat Sheet).
"Romania wanted to come up with a 'brand' that penetrates the heart of student culture," says Steve Rodd, creative evangelism consultant for Eastern Europe. "So Fitzuica is sassy, surprising and funny, with art and graphics that appeal to students."
And when a staff member meets with someone who accepted the magazine, conversation leads directly into a gospel presentation.
The magazine and the short films often go hand in hand. Last spring in the city of Timisoara, the campus team passed out 10,000 copies of Fitzuica. The magazine included an invitation to view DAMAH films, and 1,200 people attended.
Since Romania began using Fitzuica and the films 2 years ago, 400 Romanian students have trusted Christ through these strategies.
One such student, Gabrial Junghiatu, attended a discussion of short films from the festival. He liked the films so much that he showed them to his family and led a discussion.
In time Gabrial trusted Christ and joined a discipleship group to grow in his new faith. All because of a story.
"Youth today understand stories much better than concepts," explains Felix. "Our challenge is to become good storytellers."
And that's the essence of creative evangelism projects being developed across Europe -- designing stories that embody the message of Christ, and that slice to the heart of a culture.