The landscape of migrant churches in Berlin is diverse: every Sunday Syrian-Orthodox believers, Finnish Lutherans, Brazilian and Nigerian Pentecostals, Korean Presbyterians and Polish Catholics meet together for worship.

We estimate that there are roughly 250 migrant churches in Berlin. However, the number of migrant churches could be much higher, given that many – mostly protestant – migrant churches develop from prayer groups and Bible studies held in living rooms, their existence only comes to light through personal connections – or when they are looking to rent for places of worship.

Thus we are attempting through this website to develop a better overview and insight of the migrant church landscape in Berlin.

Migrant churches are not only characterized by their confession, they are also shaped by the culture of their members and leaders. Catholic worship services led by Ghanaian, German or Croatian members could be quite different from each other. Church life in the diaspora is shaped by the political and religious context of its members.

Here you can learn about the Indonesian churches in Berlin.

Catholic Mother-Tongue Churches

In the Diocese of Berlin there are 25 Catholic mother-tongue churches. Each week mass is held in 16 different languages. Roughly 30% of the Catholics in Berlin have a migrant history. Polish, Croatian and Vietnamese Catholics are the three largest groups.

Orthodox / Ancient Eastern Churches

There are around 20 Orthodox and Ancient Eastern churches. They are organized as independent churches by regions or ethnicity. Sometimes there are several congregations in osne Orthodox church. The remaining churches are composed of the following groups: Armenian, Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian, Greek and Macedonian.

Protestant Migrant Churches

The protestant migrant church landscape with its ca. 200 congregations is, compared to the previously mentioned churches, a bit more complex. The inner-protestant diversity includes Pentecostals, traditional protestant churches, non-denominational migrant churches, as well as a large number of independent churches.

There are ca. 80-100 Pentecostal churches with African roots which compose the largest group of migrant churches. On this website, however, we could only register 60 of them. There are around 50 Korean churches, but we were only able to list information from about half of them.

On our map of places of worship you can find protestant migrant churches in over 25 languages.

Please send us an email if you know of migrant churches that are not listed on this website or if they have changed worship locations. We need your help to keep our databank up to date!

Migrant Churches in Germany

The existence of migrant churches in Germany is not a new phenomenon. A reference to a Dutch church in Cologne/Frankenthal was documented in 1544. However, the number of migrant churches, their self-confidence and their importance has increased significantly in the past 25 years. Current estimations count 2000-3000 migrant churches and expect that their number will continue to increase. This development is seen in the statistics of the Federation of Pentecostal Churches. In 1992 they listed only 13 migrant churches in their federation. In 2011 the number had risen to 264, meaning that they represent 34.9% of all their member churches. In 2013 these numbers rose to 285 churches (36.4%).

Migrant churches often arise parallel to migration and refugee movements. Tamil churches were founded by refugees who came to Germany in the 1980s during the civil war in Sri Lanka. During the last several months Arabic and Farsi language churches were grounded due to the current refugee movements. The churches are places in which the trauma of their flight can be processed together. The faith in God, the worship service in one’s mother tongue, the social and practical support, sharing common experiences are important aspects of emotional healing.

Categorization of Migrant Churches

The landscape of migrant churches in Germany is very complex and must be viewed differentiatedly. Claudia Währisch-Oblau has four categories for migrant churches:

  1. Established, denominational diaspora churches are mono-ethnic. Generally they are established in consultation with the home church and the church in Germany. Examples of such churches include the Finnish-Lutheran Church, Orthodox churches and Catholic mother tongue missions. These churches see their primary task therein to create a spiritual and sociocultural home for the respective Christian diaspora. In this context the ethnic and national affiliation and the protection of one’s own cultural identity of great importance.
  2. Free-Church Missions are also mono-ethnic. Their members come from China, Turkey, Iran or Arabic states. They were founded with the support of German free churches and missions, in order to build a bridge of evangelization to the closed home countries. These churches concentrate on sharing the gospel with the non-Christian members of their own diaspora. They do not desire German members. The focus of the Chinese church is Berlin is on Chinese university students, for example.
  3. Reverse Mission Churches see themselves as international churches. Their members come primarily from Central and West Africa as well as Korea. They are Pentecostal or Independent African churches with strong connections to churches overseas. They welcome German members. They see Germany as a mission field that needs to be reached with the gospel.
  4. Independent, non-denominational new mission churches also come from Central and West Africa. They are similar to the Reverse Mission Churches; however they only have loose connections to the churches in their home country and emerged here as independent churches.

[Währisch-Oblau, Claudia: Migrationskirchen in Deutschland. Überlegungen zur strukturierten Beschreibung eines komplexen Phänomens. In: Zeitschrift für Mission 31. Jahrgang (2005), Nr. 1-2, S. 19-39]

Mission in the sense of evangelization plays an important role in the self-perception of many migrant churches. At the same time their very existence fills several societal roles.

Migrant churches are the spiritual and sociocultural home for their members, who often live in Germany without their family and social networks. The members support each other in difficult life situations. At the same time, migrant churches fulfill important integrative functions: they help their members arrive in Germany and find their way through everyday life. More and more migrant churches are intentionally taking on the role of bridge builders. They initiate integration projects, offer homework support and get involved in their community. Moreover, pastors encourage their members to learn German, to get involved in society and serve Germany.

Migrant churches are also ecumenical partners. These partnerships, however, don’t develop naturally. They have to be initiated and are accompanied by large challenges. Yet in these intercultural partnerships lies the great opportunity of integration, because these churches build bridges to German society. You can find more information on this subject in the section on intercultural relationships.

These various functions of migrant churches show what valuable societal contributions are made – often unseen. The reality of many migrant churches keeps them from reaching their full potential. The life situation of many of their members is precarious. As refugees or persons with a migrant background the often only have poorly paid jobs and often have to earn their living working in shifts or on Sundays. This in turn influences their ability and capacity to be involved in and a part of their church. The financial strength of migrant churches is often low as its members are fighting to survive financially. The annual budget of one African church in Berlin, for example, is 6000 € - mostly rental costs. The pastor has a full time job and leads the church as a volunteer. I know several pastors that earn their living driving trucks and taxis, who work in restaurants or as cleaning staff. Thus migrant churches have significantly restricted opportunity and capacity to open up to those around them.

The basis for this introduction came from the book: Dümling, B. /Sommerfeld, H. (2016): Neue Gemeinden hat die Stadt - Migranten, Migrationskirchen und interkulturelle Gemeinden. In: Sommerfeld, H.: Mit Gott in der Stadt. Die Schönheit der urbanen Transformation. Transformationstudien 8. Marburg: Francke Verlag, S. 407-424.

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