This article suggests that social identity research, especially the concept of self-other differentiation, may shed light on the observable ecclesiological and missional identity crisis of free churches in secular Europe. As free churches find positive value, meaning, and perspective in distinction to particular ‘collective others’, both their ecclesiological self as well as their philosophy of ministry are shaped by these kinds of social psychological procedures. It is thus proposed that the ecclesiological and missiological difficulties of free churches in Europe are at least partly due to the fact that what has historically been the most relevant ‘identity-forming other’ is fading away. While free churches originated within a Christendom context, they now face an increasingly secular environment. This seems to necessitate a mental rearrangement of sorts since it is no longer suitable to determine one’s identity in comparison and opposition to other Christian groups within the sphere of cultural Christianity.
Henri TajfelHuman Groups and Social Categories: Studies in Social Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1981) p. 255. For a similar early definition see e.g. Henri Tajfel "La Catégorisation sociale" in Serge Moscovici (ed) Introduction à la psychologie sociale vol. 1 (Paris: Larousse 1972) p. 292 (quoted and translated in John C. Turner ‘Social comparison and social identity: Some prospects for intergroup behaviour’ European Journal of Social Psychology 5  p. 7).