Unrivaled in its day as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, Prague was called the “Mother of Cities.” The city flourished during the Roman, Gothic, and Renaissance periods, and is the birthplace of priest and philosopher Jan Hus, a forerunner of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.
Yet somehow, the people of Prague and the Czech Republic are some of the most atheistic in the world. Polls peg as many as 89 percent of Prague’s 1.3 million people as non-religious.
“Czech has a rich spiritual heritage, but unfortunately that is pretty much gone,” says Zach Harrod, a TEAM missionary serving in Prague. Centuries of religious and political battles, followed by decades of Soviet domination, have left the Czech people suspicious of organized religion and outside influences. They tend to be private about any religious and political beliefs – if they believe anything at all.
“It’s not atheist as we would think of it here in America,” Harrod says. “...like the U.S., where everyone assumes you’re Christian because you were born in America. It’s the opposite there. If you’re a Czech, you’re an atheist.”
The decline of Catholicism — which Czechs often call the “religion for grannies” — has also taken a toll. According to Operation World, nearly all Czechs identified themselves as Catholic in 1900. Today, fewer than one in four do. “The Catholic church is dying off as fast as the elderly population is dying off, and nothing is replacing it,” Harrod says. Prague’s numerous cathedrals and monasteries, which survived the bombings of World War II, now stand mostly empty, save for gawking tourists. Instead of refilling the cathedrals, the evangelical church is growing in less stately places like coffeehouses, restaurants, hotels, and homes.
In the heart of Prague, TaCesta Church is one of only a few thriving evangelical churches in the city. The church is associated with Redeemer City to City (https://redeemercitytocity.com/), a global missions organization that recruits, trains, and coaches urban church planters.
“We jokingly called ourselves ‘underground Christians’ because we started in the small, dark basement of a hostel,” Harrod says. “Now we’re meeting in the first floor of a restaurant called the Café Louvre, a famous spot where Czech poets, artists, and philosophers congregated in years past. Everyone in Prague knows the Café Louvre.”
Established in 2009 by a Czech pastor named Alexandr (Sasha) Flek, TaCesta Church started with only about 20 people. The first time Harrod attended worship there in 2010, he was serving with Athletes in Action as a player and coach for the Prague Lions, an American football league. He was looking for a change from the expatriate English-speaking church he had been attending, and also for a place where Czech football players would feel more comfortable. After meeting Flek, Harrod attended TaCesta and was immediately drawn to the authenticity of Flek’s message and his focus on reaching the city.
“I told Sasha that I really wanted to be part of this church plant,” Harrod says. “I wanted to see God impact the city center. We really believe that through this church, we can reach Prague. If we reach Prague, we reach all of Czech because culture starts in major cities and then flows out to surrounding areas. We can reach the heart of Europe.”
Flek placed Harrod in a leadership role from the beginning, and Harrod now serves as an elder in the church, alongside Flek and two other leaders. In early 2013, Harrod left Athletes in Action and joined TEAM to be more fully engaged in church planting efforts while he continues to work with the Prague Lions.
Worship, church practices, and membership at TaCesta Church are informal in nature, respecting the Czechs’ dislike for organized religion and steering away from their preconceived notions about church.
“A lot of the people have been burned or felt disenfranchised by the church, and a lot of them have never set foot in a church before,” Harrod says. Today, TaCesta Church averages around 70 people a week and is growing each month. It has also started three missional communities throughout the city that meet in places such as a sushi restaurant. Smaller groups of friends often get together outside of church.
The church is a diverse group of people from all age groups and socio-economic backgrounds, including Europeans, Americans, artists, young urban professionals, and homeless people. A mix of families has also started attending. TaCesta means “the way” or “the journey,” which also serves as a sort of vision statement for the congregation.
“That’s what we want to be as a church,” says Harrod. “We realize that we’re all on a journey, and we want to help people journey toward Jesus. I think people are drawn to a place that loves people, loves Jesus, and welcomes them to come as they are. Our hope is to be a community of people that loves Jesus recklessly and also loves the city deeply.”
-Written by Lisa H. Renninger
-Photos provided by Zach Harrod