COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Welcome to the capital of one of the happiest countries. No, there’s no Willy Wonka, perpetual street sing-alongs or continual dance parties.
“I wouldn’t say they are overly joyous. They’re not running the streets singing Pharrell’s ‘Happy,’ dancing down the streets like ‘Glee’ or something, but they’re pretty content,” said Brad Smith,* an International Mission Board worker in Copenhagen.
Danes take care of one another. Health care, education, unemployment benefits and so on are provided; maybe not the best, but they have what they need. Smith said, “A lot of Danes will tell you it’s because they’ve lowered their expectations.”
Brad Smith*, an IMB worker living in Copenhagen wants to share his faith with his Danish friends, but finds that the postmodern, cold-weather culture requires a change from traditional ways of building relationships as well as a go-and-tell approach to evangelism.
Happiness in these terms is measured in the well-being of its citizens, meaning they feel reasonably safe, secure and content.
Danes in general also seem content with the notion that there is no God. In fact, it’s rather an embarrassing topic to be discussed, as if they’ve moved on from such a story.
So if they are content, why try to change them or bring up Jesus?
In short, Smith and his friends believe and desire that God should be worshipped.
Christianity in Denmark isn’t foreign. It’s even regarded as a Christian nation, as state churches have been a part of Danish society for hundreds of years.
Danish Christians Henrik and Sofie Nissen have moved from their comfortable inner city church environment to an area where there there is little Christian presence. Getting to know their neighbors, make new friends and gain trust has taken time and intentionality.
Henrik and Sofie Anne Nissen, a Danish Christian couple, share what it’s like to live in a society that claims Christianity, yet doesn’t believe in God.
“I had a professor call it the distant church,” Henrik said, “because they like that church is there. They can go there when they get married, or they can go there and have their child christened, but they don’t want it to intervene in their lives.”
The Nissens were both raised outside the Danish national church, but still in a Christian community in what they coin in a familiar term, the Christian bubble.
“We’ve grown up in church, but most of us haven’t seen a successful way of being missionaries to our friends and to people around us,” said Sofie.
Christianity currently works in this culture by staying within the Christian community and in the confines of societal norms, without challenging them.
“If we’re living on the church campus, and we’re constantly in church activities, there’s no space for anyone to see anything working unless they come into our world, and that’s the Old Testament – come and see, come and taste,” Smith said. “Whereas, the New Testament is go and tell, and so it’s a paradigm shift.”
Smith said he saw this in the U.S., yet felt like he stepped into the future of a socially acceptable Christianity when moving to Copenhagen.
Postmodernism is the realization that communism or capitalism or any one system can’t fix every problem, Smith said, which gets carried into a post-Christian thinking that there is no absolute truth.
“Christianity is an absolute religion,” said Smith. “Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except by me.’ That’s a pretty absolute statement.”
To reintroduce Jesus in this culture is a challenge for the church.
“They don’t just want to hear your words. They want to see your deeds,” said Henrick. “That’s the thing that’s going to challenge them the most, that they see that our words and our actions connect. This is actually what we’re doing, this is what we’re about.”
The Nissens and Smith take confidence that they are joining God as they love their neighbors.
“That comes by praying. That comes by sharing what you feel God has said to you about these people, and then allowing God Himself, allowing the Holy Spirit to just speak to them in a simple way,” said Henrik. “It’s not up to us to convince people. That’s the Holy Spirit’s work. So often we make it all about us, when it’s really all about God.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – William Bagsby is an IMB writer based in London.)