Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





John C. Torpey

Subject Categories



Christianity; church planting; evangelicalism; Protestantism; secularization; sociology of religion


New Protestant churches are being founded in cities around the world. They are the product of a conscious effort on the part of evangelicals to found, or ``plant,'' new churches in urban areas. Behind this effort are a whole host of actors, including denominations, churches, seminaries, and parachurch organizations, who come together in church planting networks to establish theologically conservative churches that will speak to young urban professional audiences. The hope is that these efforts will scale up and turn into a movement bringing about religious revival among culturally influential groups. Among the focal areas for these efforts are European cities.

The presence and vitality of newly planted churches in the European metropolis counters the trend of secularization observed in these places since the middle of the previous century. How do church planters go about and succeed in their quest to bring doctrine to hipsters and yuppies in the European metropolis? This dissertation studies the actors, sites and cultural processes behind a European church planting network to answer this question. The focus is on the anatomy of the network enabling church planting, the engagements with urban space and public culture by church planters, and their understanding of pastoral work. The dissertation engages both supply-side and neosecularization theories in the sociology of religion to make sense of the practices, successes and challenges of church planters in contemporary society. While the supply-side theory goes some way in explaining the form and dynamics of church planting efforts, understanding how the church planters engage with cities requires drawing on other bodies of work, such as David Martin's revision of secularization theory. With Martin I argue that culture and the lived experience of urban space matter in the context of religious change, not just market dynamics in the religious economy.

The project is based on multisited research employing focused ethnographic and interview methods. The main focus of the field research was on church plants in four German cities: Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Cologne. In order to gain additional comparative insight, additional interviews and observations were conducted for shorter durations of time in Amsterdam, Paris, and Prague. In addition to field research, the dissertation draws on publications by church planting insiders, media reports, and digital resources.

In addition to this research on what has been called contemporary evangelicalism's "cutting edge" and "default mode" of evangelism, the dissertation also asks how and why Europe came to be seen as a mission field. It argues that the conception of Europe as a mission field dates to the interwar period, when mission societies began framing the European continent in these terms. Analysis of these framing processes shows that early instances of framing Europe as a mission field portrayed Europe as occupying an interstitial space between Christendom and heathendom. This history is a reminder not to exaggerate the novelty of contemporary trends, and it also helps to differentiate what is really distinctive about the contemporary mode of evangelistic engagement.

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