Evangelicals in Serbia
Serbia is one of the least evangelised countries in Europe. Although it is predominantly Serbian Orthodox, few have a personal relationship with the true God.
However, there are some Serbs passionate to bring the gospel to their own people. One such is Samuil Petrovski, Vice President of the Serbian Evangelical Alliance and General Secretary of the Evangelical University Students (EUS) – the Serbian branch of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES).
Through the work of EUS, Samuil is influencing many students from different denominations for the gospel. Every autumn about 150 students come to the EUS national conference. For many, it is their first time at a Christian event.
Serbia’s recent history of political isolation and international sanctions has had a negative influence on Christian work. In the 1990s most missionaries left Serbia; Western churches lost interest and focused on neighbouring countries. Today Belgrade is a metropolis of three million people, but it has only eight small evangelical churches.
‘This is a great mission field, and there is a great need for evangelical believers to share the good news here. In my part of Belgrade, there are 500,000 people and yet no Protestant church’, says Samuil.
‘Every second Saturday, 20-30 people gather to study the Gospel of John together, hoping this group will become a church. We assemble in a private flat at the moment, and hope to find partners who will want to help plant a new church in Belgrade’.
Often visiting Christians are surprised by the people’s openness and hospitality, since there is adverse stereotyping of Serbia in the western media. Serbs are open to speak about God – this is a day of opportunity for the gospel.
But there are obstacles to Christian witness. ‘Most of our family are first generation Christians. The Serbian Orthodox Church is intolerant towards Protestant groups and refers to them as sects. A young Serbian would need to sacrifice a lot to become a believer, because Serb identity is closely associated with being Serbian Orthodox’.
Currently Serbia has about 10,000 evangelical believers (0.1% of the population). This figure does not include the historic Slovak Lutheran and Hungarian Reformed Churches – they do not co-operate with mainstream evangelical communities. The largest evangelical churches in Serbia are among the Gypsies. The biggest is in the southern city of Leskovac, with about 1000 members.
In theory, Serbia has a secular constitution, but the Serbian Orthodox Church usually gets preferential treatment. Protestant churches are not free to hold meetings at schools, universities and other public venues.
However, the north is more tolerant of believers – perhaps because 26 different nationalities are living in that region (with Serbs as the largest group).
There are some problems within the churches. They need to learn to work together better, and some have problems with legalism and ‘one-man shows’. There is a great need for Serbian Christians to be salt and light in Serbian society at all levels. However, this a time of great opportunity for the gospel in Serbia.