Spreading the gospel in Nordic countries where people think they’re already happy
Last month, the World Happiness Report declared that for the fourth year in a row, the residents of Finland are the happiest in the world. In fact, Finland and its fellow Nordic countries—Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland—have all been in the top 10 happiest countries since 2013. (This year, the United States reached No. 14, up from 18 in 2020.)
“Clearly, when it comes to the level of average-life evaluations, the Nordic states are doing something right,” the report’s authors noted in a section titled “The Nordic Exceptionalism: What Explains Why the Nordic Countries Are Constantly Among the Happiest in the World.” Their conclusions include low corruption, well-functioning government institutions and high levels of social trust.
But even exceptionally happy Danes can be lost Danes. Only 9% say their faith is very important to them, 10% pray daily, and 3% attend worship services weekly.
So how can I, a pastor in Copenhagen, convince the happiest people in the world that they need the gospel?
DO HAPPY PEOPLE WANT TO HEAR THE GOSPEL?
Many Danes are familiar with the annual evaluation of the happiest people in the world, and know that we are near the top. But many smirk to themselves, because we don’t feel that we’re happier than others.
One reason Nordic countries such as Denmark report higher levels of happiness may be that we have the means to numb the pain. We have the money to party, travel and buy vaccines, and we receive free education and medical care. We are also on the top when it comes to consumption of antidepressants and alcohol problems in youth. Though few attend, the majority of people are members of the state church—maybe as a kind of insurance policy?
But deep down lurks a lack of hope and meaning, as several known personalities in Denmark (for example, the successful comedian and actor Casper Christensen and the legendary cycling star Jesper Skibby) have recently acknowledged. They tell us the life they lived—the kind many wonder over and strive for—is deep down meaningless and empty.
So the myth—that the Nordic people are happy and don’t need the gospel—is like looking at someone you know (perhaps on social media) and saying, “They look like they have everything under control, and don’t have any problems. Certainly they don’t need me to share Jesus with them.”
That’s a dangerous lie. So how can we combat it? Here are four ways.
1. Get Close
Just like us, people who don’t know God are hesitant to be vulnerable with a stranger about their problems and inner lives. So we need to get close to people. Because if we aren’t there when the need for hope and meaning appears, then there will be something else to brighten the darkness—alcohol, a yoga class, drugs, or golf clubs.
So we have to ask ourselves: Who is nearby? Who is God putting on my heart? For whom should I be light and salt?
2. Ask Questions
Many Christians are afraid of speaking to others about God, because they are nervous that they can’t answer all every question.
It is interesting that Jesus, who knew all the answers, asked a lot of questions when he interacted with people. Maybe, instead of worrying about answering questions, we should be focused on asking them. Honesty and gentle questions can create a space where we get to know each other and can speak openly about what the gospel means to us.
3. Introduce Community
I am struck again and again by the promise and power of God’s Word. I know we believe and affirm it—when we’re asked about our systematic theology. But do we believe it in practice, or do we trust in our persuasive abilities and praise team’s skills instead?
God’s Word can change hearts; therefore, we must expose people to his Word in the Christian community.
It is important to remember we don’t believe one size fits all. People outside the church are just as different as those inside. Some prefer small and intimate community; others prefer large gatherings. Some love the calm and quiet chat; others prefer the powerful church service and sharp preaching. Some are more inclined to Bible study and some to testimony. We need to know those God has put us around us, and to use very means possible to introduce them to the Lord (1 Cor. 9:22).
4. Trust God
God acts through his Word. He uses the Christian community as a testimony of his love and grace—not so we can grow complacent while waiting for God to intervene, but because this same God uses a little boy’s lunch box to feed thousands of people. Therefore, he can also work a miracle from your little kindness, your honest conversation, your quiet prayer, and your invitation to dinner or to church.
Let’s join together in reaching as many as we can—even the seemingly happy people—with the true joy of Jesus.