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Facts about Austria

Taken from the Baptist Mid-Missions Field Manual (updated 1996).


The Austrian People

The typical Austrian is a fun-loving person who enjoys his leisure to the fullest in this beautiful country. His love for animals and high regard for nature prompt him to spend much of his free time strolling through the woods or hiking on mountain trails. This is understandable as the Alps cover three-fourths of the land area of Austria. Music also plays an important role in the lives of the Austrians. The Austrian's taste for music ranges from that of the famous masters to a particular folk-music that is unique to each province.

The Austrian people are polite, eager to please, quick to say what he thinks another wants to hear. He would rather discuss generalities than something that involves him personally. If he is pressed for a personal opinion, his response is noncommittal.

The Austrian prefers keeping to himself. He has only one or two friends in a lifetime (a friend here in the sense of someone with whom he has social contact outside working hours). His general outlook on life is negative, and he is skeptical -- of people (including fellow Austrians), but also of ideas, of anything that would bring change.

There are underlying reasons for all of this. One is the plain fact that a spiritual vacuum exists because God's Word has not been proclaimed. How can Christian attitudes be displayed when the Bible is virtually a closed Book? Secondly, many have good reason to be mistrustful and see only the dark side of life because they have experienced it repeatedly. Many Austrians alive to today have gone through two world wars and their accompanying tragedy. Multitudes more have been "fortunate" enough to have experienced only one war and the occupation years that followed.

Thirdly, the political and religious systems have not fostered independent thinking. Responsibility for material well-being lies with the State and responsibility for spiritual well-being lies with the Church. The individual is not challenged to make independent decisions.

Tyrol in Particular

The Tyrolean people love their mountains. The Alps are world-renown for their beauty and splendor. But for the Tyrolean they are a symbol of his beloved homeland. The Alps stir up a high sense of patriotism among its inhabitants. It should be noted that patriotism in Austria is more local and regional that national. The people of Tyrol are more proud to called Tyrolean than Austrian. Most Tyroleans are hard pressed to say something good about Vienna.

Austrians also depend heavily on their mountains for income, as the largest single source of income in Austria is tourism. The mountains provide year-around recreation for those interested in hiking, skiing or water sports. The Austrians have become very adept at "selling" their culture to tourists. Various forms of folk-music and folk-dance, combined with religious traditions and ancient superstitions, are displayed throughout the year with great pomp and pageantry.

The Tyrolean are a friendly people, but only to a certain point. With tourism, they have learned not to be so critical of other people's customs and have begun to widen their outlook on life. However, this openmindedness has its limits when it comes to the religious realm. The inhabitants of Tyrol are strongly bound to the tradition to the Roman Catholic Church. Nearly every aspect of life and death requires the presence of a Roman Catholic priest. At the end of the Counter Reformation Tyrol was so purely Roman Catholic that it was called "the Holy Land" by the Church. Religious instruction in the public schools is mandatory, and the only religious instruction offered in the vast majority of Tyrolean schools is Roman Catholic. Since Baptists are not a "state-recognized religion," they do not enjoy the many privileges enjoyed by the Roman Catholic Church including access to religious instruction classes in public schools.


78% - Roman Catholic
5% - Lutheran
9% - no religion
8% - all other groups:
160,000 Muslim
20,000 Jehovah's Witnesses
7,000 Jews
5,000 Mormons
1,300 Baptists

plus other small Protestant and evangelical groups including Methodist, Brethren, Mennonite Brethren, Pentecostal, and independent.

b. Born-again believers account for a mere 1/10 of 1% of the population.

c. There are twelve Baptist churches affiliated with the Austrian Baptist Union and four Conservative Baptist churches. (For reasons of doctrine and practice, no cooperation with them is possible.)

d. 183 Lutheran churches

e. 3,000 Roman Catholic churches. Recent events in the city of St. Pölten connected with an ultra conservative Roman Catholic, Bishop Kren, have caused division in the province of Lower Austria. Several Roman Catholics have left the Church because of his hard line policies.

f. The majority of Austria's 3,346 towns and villages have no Protestant group of any kind which preaches the Word.

g. An average of only 3-8% of the Austrians attends church regularly.

h. The cults, mystic religions including the New Agers and the charismatic movement have a growing following.

i. The Roman Catholic Church keeps silent about occult practices and pagan superstitions which have been widespread for centuries.

Religious History

Historically Austria has been a Roman Catholic nation, with Church and State working hand in hand. A temporary change was effected in the 1500's by the Protestant Reformation. At that time 90% of the Austrian population turned to this "new" faith, some merely out of opposition to the ruling system of the day, but thousands out of conviction. There were only four Roman Catholic priests left in the city of Vienna and many Austrians risked their lives to attend "heretical" worship services in hiding places in the country sides all over Austria. Finally, the Hapsburgs (the then ruling monarchs) called in the Jesuits from Spain to purge Austria of Protestantism.

The first martyrs on Austrian soil were the Anabaptists Balthasar Hubmaier and his wife. They were put to death in Vienna in 1528. The first known Anabaptist, George Blaurock, was executed in the province of Tyrol in 1529. All over the country thousands were tortured and gave their lives. Multitudes were forced to flee to surrounding countries, where the religious climate was more tolerant. When families reached the borders, their children were taken from them to be returned and reared in Catholic homes.

Not only were the peasants and common people involved, but the wealthy, the intellectuals, merchants, and even nobility. A noted Austrian journalist has said that the Counter Reformation, as this purge was called (roughly from 1600-1800), robbed Austria of her elite. In his opinion the country still suffers today from the loss of such capable individuals. Case in point: it has taken the city of Steyr 200 years to recover economically after its believers, who were leading citizens, were driven out. By the end of the Counter Reformation Austria had been purged of practically every trace of biblical Christianity.

The influence of the Counter Reformation can be detected even yet in the attitude of Austrians toward non-Catholics. The Lutheran church was finally tolerated in 1781, but with numerous restrictions. One example: their meeting places could not look like churches nor have entrances on a main street, they still did not have full citizens' rights. Additional rights were granted to Protestants in 1861, but it was not until 100 years later, 1961, that Austria's Protestants enjoyed equality with Catholics in such areas as education, the military, and social welfare programs.

A Baptist church was founded in 1869, and in 1875 the Methodists began their work. About this same time the British and Foreign Bible Society established a base in Austria. All of these met with much opposition. Permits were first granted and then retracted. With few exceptions, the tiny Protestant/evangelical minority adopted a policy of non-proselytism in an effort to prevent further clashes.

With the century came World War I, the collapse of the monarchy, an unstable political climate, Hitler's annexation and another war. Any one of these situations would make church growth difficult. As if that weren't enough, offers then came from well-meaning churches in North America to sponsor young Christian families who wished to emigrate. Many did. Once again the churches in Austria were drained of promising young leadership. Older believers were left behind to try to pick up the pieces and stay together.

The modern evangelization of Austria did not have its start until after World War II. Christian workers who came in the post-war years ministered primarily to Eastern Europeans living in refugee camps. Since the 1960's additional missionaries have come to work among the Austrians.

In recent years, Austria has been a clearinghouse for refugees from East European countries, most recently from war-torn Jugoslavia. Some refugees find work and stay a year or two before moving on. Missionaries speaking their languages have ministered to them with a loving witness. A number of ethnic churches are found in Vienna. However, because of the mass exodus from war-torn and economically depressed countries; the Austrian government in 1993 put strict immigration quotas in force, making it even difficult for new missionaries trying to enter the country.

There are missionaries with a church-planting emphasis in Austria from Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain and North America. Unfortunately, many of them stress cooperation with the newly formed Evangelical Alliance, at the expense of a clear biblical stand on important issues. There are about a dozen evangelical churches or fellowships in Vienna, where one-third of the Austrian population lives. Other major cities, listed at the beginning of this report, have about three each.

Work of Baptist Mid-Missions in Austria

The work of Baptist Mid-Missions in Austria began in late 1967 when Roland and Betty Shelton arrived in Vienna. They labored faithfully there until 1980 when they returned to a pastorate in the States. Martha Jongewaard came to Vienna in 1972 and labored there until 1988, when she resigned from BMM to work in Salzburg in a deaf ministry. Others who served in Vienna through the years have been Virgil and Delores Bunjer (now ministering in Germany), Dave and Sandy Knudson (now in home missions), and Bruce and Marnee Brandenburg (now CBF in USA). In 1987 Ted and Becky Fletchall arrived in Austria and began a work in Fulpmes, 12 miles south of Innsbruck in the province of Tyrol. Robert and Dawn Talley came in 1993 to form a team-ministry with the Fletchalls. In 1992 Ted baptized the first Austrian believers of this ministry. This was the first baptism performed by BMM missionaries in Austria. On May 8. 1994 the first independent Baptist Church in the province of Tyrol was organized with a handful of believers.

In recent years, BMM missionaries have noticed a type of spiritual inquisitiveness. Many Austrians are starting to question the doctrines and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. Some seek answers from the Word of God. Increasingly, Austrians are coming out of the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately, many disillusioned Roman Catholics turn to the cults, mysticism and other non-Christian religion.

The most effective type of outreach to the Austrian people continues to be one-on-one contacts. This includes many possibilities: home Bible studies, children's Bible clubs, special meetings and monthly fellowships in rented facilities, lending library, tract and Scripture distribution, personal counseling, visitation in the home, outings with families and youth, musical programs and films.

Baptist Mid-Missions' continuing goals for Austria are evangelization and discipling, establishing local Baptist churches, and expanding into other areas of the country. However, with only one team (two couples), the need is great. To have a work in or near each of the five major cities, eight more couples (four teams) are needed, not to mention numerous towns and villages with no Gospel witness.

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Last Updated July 11, 1999 by Ted Fletchall