Winter 2015

Charrette | Berlin

Collaboration toward city transformation
by Mike Edwards and Katie Dudgeon

Rainer moved with his family to Berlin from Bremen, Germany, in 1996 when offered a job at Bayer Pharmaceuticals. The top-rated music program at University of the Arts Berlin pulled Hannah to the German capital as a performance major; the city captured her heart and she stayed. Alex wandered into Berlin after living homeless for the last five years. Ahmet immigrated as a political refuge. Harold entered Berlin’s start-up scene as a hopeful entrepreneur.

These are not isolated stories but part of a worldwide phenomenon that presents new opportunities for the gospel. There is a massive shift in population to large, influential cities. Most of these cities are driven by worldviews that are far from biblical, and this is redefining the mission field as we know it.

Berlin is one of these global cities—cosmopolitan, raw, youthful, multicultural and shockingly secular. Two-thirds of Berlin’s residents express that God does not exist or is not relevant.1 And the city has been called the atheist capital of Europe.2 In many ways, Berlin is a place where people have forgotten that they have forgotten God.

Desperate times

In the early 2000s, a group of pastors from different church traditions and doctrinal viewpoints were drawn together by the concern that the churches in Berlin were rapidly declining. The “divided city” of the Cold War had resulted in a fragmented church. Humanly speaking, these were desperate times for the church in Berlin.

As time passed, this diverse group shared a sense that praying together needed to move to acting together. What emerged was a specific attitude toward collaboration. Over 10 years, they developed a culture of working together across various Christian traditions in hopes of seeing a city transformed by the gospel. Still, what Berlin needed was more workers. Yet the prayer was not simply for more workers, but for more workers who value working together.

Charrette | Berlin mobilizes people toward reaching the unreached, unengaged or unnoticed.

When EFCA ReachGlobal came to Berlin in 2007, we asked what role we could play to multiply the church. We were not concerned with building up our brand but building the Kingdom of God. It became clear that we needed to come alongside the collaborative effort already in motion, rather than create our own independent or competing initiatives. This way of thinking required a new way of communicating—and Charrette | Berlin3 was birthed.

Launched in 2014, this dynamic community of Christians is committed to reaching those who do not have any concept of God or faith, and to seeing Berlin transformed. It is more than a network and extends far beyond EFCA ReachGlobal. Charrette | Berlin mobilizes people toward reaching the unreached, unengaged or unnoticed with the gospel.

Offering glimmers of hope

Katrin moved to Berlin from Poland several years ago. Crushed by unemployment, abusive relationships and a former life in a satanic cult, she quickly found her place in the community of prostituted women. Prostitution was made legal in Berlin in order to regulate the industry and protect the rights of women, but there are always holes in the system and better prices to be found. Katrin found herself trapped in black-market prostitution.

Although brothels are common in the city, there are only a few places where prostitutes are permitted to walk the streets. Several years ago a leader from one Berlin church had the vision to place a café on one of these walking streets. Katrin found her way into this café, where she finds love expressed in ways quite uncommon to her daily experience: meeting people who express concern without wanting something in return, playing board games just to have a “normal” life experience, and being valued as a person rather than a sex object.

Katrin visits regularly, yet her journey to a different kind of life will be a long one. The cycle of relational abuse from men, drugs, rehab, then back to the streets is harsh. It is a long, sometimes impossible, process for women without any spiritual background to trust people and find a glimmer of hope. With the tangible opportunity to be Jesus to hurting women, you would think that the café includes regular volunteers. But this was not so until Charrette | Berlin began including the café as one of its gospel initiatives.

Compared to the spiritual needs of the city, the small church in Berlin is simply stretched too thin. It is not able to embrace all the gospel opportunities at hand. This is not anyone’s fault; it’s simply a reality that the workers are few. Charrette | Berlin comes alongside the church by mobilizing people into gospel initiatives like the street café.

The gospel in word and action

Charrette | Berlin includes people both inside and outside Berlin—working together, dreaming and launching new ways to gain a hearing for the gospel in a city they love. They include church partners from the United States and the ReachGlobal team, working alongside local churches and organizations.

The focus of these collaborative efforts is to develop 100 diverse gospel initiatives throughout the city—initiatives expressing the gospel in word and action in a way that leads toward the multiplication of the church. These initiatives are a mixture of church planting, disciplemaking, pre-evangelism, leadership development, compassion, and efforts in the arts, music, media, business and sports.

Cities require practical solutions to real problems.

So far, Charrette | Berlin contributes to 14 different gospel initiatives, with that number increasing every year. Half of these initiatives are directly related to church multiplication, while others are more community-based: a venue for local musicians and artists, the café for prostituted women, and meals served to refugees migrating into Berlin. These provide a bridge between the church and those with a secular worldview—a way to meet them on their terms and have gospel conversations in the midst of acts of love.

From one city to another

Berlin is not like every other city, yet some of the lessons learned in Charrette | Berlin might apply to your city, whether large or small:

  • The body of Christ needs to collaborate. Start small. One local church serving with another church next door might be a good beginning.

  • Cities require practical solutions to real problems. People need to see the gospel in action—visible, rooted in love, relevant to the community. What does the community need?

  • New churches can help established churches understand how their city is changing. See the city through each another’s eyes, not to force a similar approach, but to learn and adapt to changing times.

  • Perhaps the most significant: Praying together matters. Diversity does not mean we all have to do the same thing—it is good to be self-defined. Be different, yet move toward one another and exhibit a unity that honors the Lord. Prayer is an important means to begin expressing our unity amidst diversity.

Charrette | Berlin is in its early years. It is not a finished product by any means but continues to build on a value of citywide collaboration that was started years ago. A tangible byproduct has been the growth of the ReachGlobal Berlin team: A team of two in 2010 has grown to more than 40. There is much more to come, as many more gospel initiatives develop in order to reach unreached city dwellers.

Will you join the movement to see cities like Berlin reached with the gospel? Rainer, Hannah, Alex, Harold, Ahmet and Katrin won’t be asking you, but one day they might thank you.

Visit Charrette | Berlin to learn more about the community and its gospel initiatives, as well as opportunities to be involved:

12008 International Social Survey Programme, Religion III Survey. The ISSP survey is done every 10 years. The change for Berlin and East Germany from 1998 to 2008 was statistically insignificant, so the same may be true from 2008 to the next survey in 2018.

2World Population Review.

3In urban planning, the term charrette refers to a final, intensive team effort to complete a project around a unique need. This is a collaborative, interdisciplinary, thinking out-of-the-box, controlled-by-no-one process to find solutions to difficult challenges.

Mike Edwards is the team leader for EFCA ReachGlobal in Berlin, Germany. He moved to Berlin in 2007 to launch the team there. He previously served for 10 years in an EFCA church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Mike is a life-long student of the city.

Katie Dudgeon is the assistant team leader for EFCA ReachGlobal in Berlin and served with an EFCA church in Fullerton, California, before moving to Europe. Katie has been instrumental in bringing young adults and training them to serve in Berlin.