The churches in Europe - Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox - have been involved in the ecumenical movement from the beginning and have provided much support in terms of human and financial resources. In the early period of the movement there was a distinction between the United Kingdom as a region and continental Europe. After World War II and with the changes in the geo-political situation brought about by decolonization a new reality of a - mainly western - European entity developed. At the same time the opposition between the Soviet Union and the western powers caused the division of the continent in East and West which lasted until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. The European churches in the ecumenical movement and the WCC have always endeavoured to maintain and to nurture a sense of European unity across the divide of the Cold War. This was also one of the main functions of the regional ecumenical organization created by the churches of Europe in 1959, the Conference of European Churches (CEC).
The geographical spread of the European region in the WCC and the ecumenical movement coincides for the most part with the political understanding of Europe stretching from the Urals to the Atlantic. On the southern side the countries of the Caucasus are included but not Cyprus which is grouped with the Middle East. Sub-regional affinities are fairly strong: the Nordic region (the Scandinavian countries plus Finland and the Baltics), Central Europe, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Southern Europe. The Protestant churches in the Latin countries of west and southern Europe have formed a sub-regional conference. To some extent there is also a sub-regional confessional pattern: the large churches of the Reformation (Protestant and Anglican) are mostly in the west and north, the Catholic Church is in a majority position in the south (and in Poland), the Orthodox churches form the majority in the central and eastern parts of Europe. The churches of the Protestant Reformation (Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist) are in full communion through the Leuenberg Agreement and have formed the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe. The Anglican and (episcopal) Lutheran churches in Great Britain and the Nordic countries (with the exception of Denmark) have also signed an agreement of full communion (Porvoo). There are other examples of such intra-European agreements between churches. National ecumenical councils or councils or conferences of churches, most of them with Roman Catholic participation exist in many countries, with the exception of Eastern Europe. In southern Europe exist Protestant Federations. There are also evangelical alliances or fellowships and pentecostal bodies in many countries. The number of WCC member churches is 81 representing 292 million Christians.
Many churches in Europe are affected by secularization and experience loss of membership. On the other hand, in recent decades migration has resulted in the birth and growth of new and vital Christian communities from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America etc. This new phenomenon is having an increasing impact on the life of the churches and the ecumenical movement in Europe.
The main regional church bodies are:
- Conference of European Churches (CEC)
- European Council of Episcopal Conferences (CCEE, Roman Catholic)
- European Evangelical Alliance (EEA)
- Pentecostal European Fellowship (PEF).
The CEC and the CCEE have jointly organized three European Ecumenical Assemblies, in Basel, Switzerland (1989), Graz, Austria (1997) and Sibiu, Romania (2007).