An Overview of Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe has one of the largest landmasses of any region in the world. Russia is the largest country in the world, and Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe. The region is resource-rich, having farmland, timber, oil and rare metals. It is also prone to earthquakes and landslides, and the remoteness and cold make it very difficult to utilize these resources or bring them to markets. Heavy industrialization has led to significant soil, water and air pollution. The entire region was affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; however, Ukraine and Belorussia were the most affected with the latter being over twenty percent contaminated.

For its size, the region is one of the least populated. About 315 million people lived here in 2000, but no longer. Not a single Eastern European country has a growing population. All are aging and in decline. The region is losing 1.5 million people each year; by 2025, the population will likely fall to 223 million, ahead of the rest of Europe but smaller than most African, Asian or American regions. Two-thirds of the people live in urban areas; there are 599 megacities (but this number, too, could decline). Since fewer children are being born, the number of children is of course falling as well from sixty-one million (twenty-three percent of the population) in 1950 to fifty-five million (nineteen percent of the population) today, and likely to thirty-nine million (fourteen percent of the population) by 2025. Eastern Europe has half as many children as North America.

Part of the problem is the economies of the region. All have made the transition from communism to free markets, some better than others. Most of the countries are growing and some are close to becoming players in the global economy. Russia in particular is leveraging its oil and natural gas wealth to raise its economic fortunes markedly. But this latter growth cannot be sustained in the long-term; moreover, throughout the region poverty and unemployment are still widespread, approaching double-digit percentages in most of the countries. Over seventy-five million people live in poverty, and many more are poor and underemployed. Hunger and homelessness are readily seen on the streets. Moldavia is one of the poorest countries in all of Europe.

Throughout the region poverty and unemployment are widespread, approaching double-digit percentages. Over seventy-five million people live in poverty, and many more are poor and underemployed.

Government corruption and instability—both so common as to be accepted without question—contribute to the economic problems. Russia's governments have been typified by strong, autocratic—if not dictatorial—leadership for centuries. The smaller countries have governments that are barely stable, although many are becoming more so. Crime is rampant. The combination of these many problems frightens would-be investors. The ongoing warfare in Chechneya only adds to the darkness of the mix. AIDS is a silently growing threat, with significant epidemics in Bulgaria, Russia and Ukraine. Far more visible are the cankers of drug addiction and alcoholism.

Christianity in Eastern Europe
Tradition says St. Andrew first brought the gospel to Kiev. Whatever the truth of the tradition, the good news was seeded here in the first century after Christ. The Church did not become firmly established, however, until nearly nine centuries later. In 990 AD, Prince Vladimir I and the whole of Kiev was converted in the East Orthodox tradition. It became known as the “Jerusalem of Russia” and the center of Christianity in Eastern Europe. Even today, Ukraine is a “Bible belt” of Eastern Europe. Despite the winds of politics, the heritage of Orthodox Christianity has remained strong.

The overwhelming majority of the population claim to be Christian of one variety or another. Most belong, if only in name, to the Orthodox Church. Religious apathy and inter-tradition rivalries are common, and restrictions on unapproved Christian workers (mainly Protestant evangelicals and marginals such as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses) are growing. Few are interested in missions to other nations, although there are some indications this is changing. At the same time, those who claim to be nonreligious are still present and there are a growing number of Muslim immigrants.

The next generation will be focused primarily on improving and stabilizing the economics and politics of the region. Mission efforts will mostly be the domain of small, independent evangelical agencies. Eastern Europe will still be considered a mission field by the majority of Christians, and much work should be done here to revive the stagnant Church. However, small “underground” works will be used to bring the good news to unreached peoples on the borders of the region. The winds of politics and persecution, however, should be carefully watched.

Statistics for the Ten Countries of Eastern Europe


P'00  P'25 C '00  % C '25 % 75-00 00-25 Issues affecting the future
Belorussia 10.0 8.6 6.9 69% 6.5 76% ++ -+ Poverty, Chernobyl contamination, possible merger with Russia
Bulgaria 8.0 6.6 6.7 84% 5.5 84% -+ -+ Economic growth, corruption, crime, openness
Czech Republic 10.3 9.8 6.5 63% 6.8 70% +- -+ Strategic position, stable economy, openness, apathy
Hungary 10.2 9.4 8.9 87% 8.5 90% -+ -+ Economic growth, open, leadership training
Moldavia 4.3 4.0 2.9 68% 3.1 77% ++ -+ Extreme poverty, agriculture, some restrictions
Poland 38.6 37.1 37.1 96% 35.9 97% ++ -+ Poverty, unemployment, pollution, Catholic vs. evangelical tensions
Romania 22.1 19.9 20.8 94% 19.1 96% ++ -+ Poverty, corruption, some restrictions, renewal movements
Russia 146.6 129.2 84.9 58% 89.6 69% ++ -+ Erosion of democracy, stagnant economy, AIDS, migrants, poverty, war
Slovakia 5.4 5.3 4.6 84% 4.7 88% +- -+ Growing economy, unemployment, religious openness, lack of vision
Ukraine 49.1 37.3 39.1 80% 31.4 84% ++ +- Stabilizing government, growing economy, long Christian heritage

P’00 – Population, AD 2000
P’25 – Population, AD2025
C’00 – Christianity, AD 2000 (followed by the percentage of the overall population)
C’25 – Christianity, AD2025 projection, World Christian Database (followed by percentage of overall population)
75-00 – Growth rate. The first (+/-) indicates whether Christianity is growing or declining; the second (+/-) indicates whether it is growing faster or slower than the population (thus whether Christianity’s influence is growing or declining). (+-) means Christianity is growing, but not as fast as the population, and so is declining as a share of the country.
00-25 – Growth rate projected for AD2000-2025
Issues – A brief encapsulation of the issues affecting the growth of Christianity in the nation

Justin Long manages and is senior editor for Momentum, a magazine devoted to unreached peoples. He can be reached at [email protected].