Unusual Trend in Hungary: More than Expected Regard Themselves Baptists
Dr. Kalman Meszaros (Budapest), President of the Hungarian Baptist Union, pointed this out in a conversation with the European Baptist Press Service (EBPS). During the most recent census, 18.000 Hungarians had listed themselves as “Baptist”, yet the Baptist Union has only 12.000 members in 330 congregations. The church is consequently presently searching for these “lost sheep”. Since the political revolution in Eastern Europe, Baptists have regularly produced their own broadcasts for radio and television. All media report extensively on the Union’s relief programme, Hungarian Baptist Aid. Hungarian relief workers are involved in nearly every world crisis or natural calamity. Tax income also confirms Baptist approval rates. Meszaros reports that one percent of all taxes can after the fact be directed to religious programmes. Baptist tax income in the past year consequently grew by 30%, increasing from 18 to 25 million Forint (roughly 100.000 Euro). Yet all other churches have had to deal with falling tax income.
Meszaros labels the planting of new congregations as a primary concern. Here one is hoping for foreign support in order to meet this challenge effectively. Two-thirds of all Hungarian cities still have no Baptist congregation. The mission challenge is of immense proportions. It is therefore especially encouraging that it has been possible in recent years to plant 16 congregations in the region along the Danube between Budapest and Austria. In Hungary, only the Baptists are active among the Sinti and Roma (gypsy) ethnic minority. Twenty-five congregations have been founded among them. This grouping’s 800.000 members enjoy the lowest social status in the country: “These are the poorest people with the worst schools.”
Meszaros calls the country’s „practical atheism“ a major social concern. Most people are still interested only in a consumer-oriented lifestyle, not in matters of faith. In communist times, reality had been easier for Baptists to discern: “Theoretical atheism was once our adversary,“ yet the congregations had remained far removed from it. But the new form of materialism is finding increasing favour among Baptists: “Our congregations are having a much more difficult time meeting this challenge.” For Meszaros the matter is clear: „Practical atheism is as much an enemy of spirituality as theoretical atheism ever was.”