I recently spent a week training church planters in France. What I saw was extremely encouraging.
According to a Christianity Today article written several years ago a new church pops up, in France, every 11 days (http://goo.gl/KMxmz).
The group I was with has grown from a single congregation in the early 1990s to nearly 50 churches today. On my first visit about 12 years ago I met with a small group of mostly discouraged pastors. Their story changed rapidly in a decade.
My more recent trips met with a palpable difference in leadership morale. The same pastors who once complained of a lack of just about everything are now busy training disciples to plant new churches. There is little concern about money, buildings or land. Instead these people have faith that God will provide.
They are intent on planting more churches. And it is newly planted churches, which will eventually transform Europe’s most secular nation.
A Groundswell Of New Life
The numbers are not yet overwhelming but a groundswell is gaining momentum. The number of Evangelical churches has quadrupled in forty years. Today’s estimates total around 4,000 evangelical churches. The total number of adherents is about 350,000. But those numbers would certainly balloon if you were able to count the churches among new immigrants to the nation. Because many of those people, and even leaders, are in the country without official recognition; their numbers go uncounted.
Today, laws governing separation of church and state guarantee the civil rights of Evangelicals and Pentecostals who would have been persecuted by a nominally Catholic civil government in the past.
Attendance in Catholic churches and home prayer groups (house churches) is also on the rise. The Catholic church suffered the loss of many priests during the 20th Century, but it is showing a resurgence as many lay-led congregations spring to new life. Much of this growth is evangelical. I found literature for the Alpha Course in several Catholic churches on a recent vacation trip. And, true to the claims of the Christianity Today article I cited above, I did actually see an Alpha poster in the famed Notre Dame de Paris.
Not Just An Immigration Issue
Many new congregations are led by immigrants from French-speaking Africa. In fact, research I did for my book, “How To Multiply Your Church,” shows that for every two Muslims moving to France there are three Christians accompanying them.
But to relegate all growth to immigration would be a short-sighted mistake. What I’ve witnessed while teaching in France is that immigration does play a strong role in the multiplication of churches. But it is far from the entire story.
It seems that the mostly African immigrants are so poor that they see opportunity where French nationals have missed it. A case in point is the church where we last met. The congregation meets in an industrial space in a hundred-year-old facility. Their next neighbor is an auto repair shop. The outside doesn’t promise much but when you step inside you meet with bright light, lovely facilities and good food.
The willingness of the immigrant churches to make do with little is an encouragement to more traditionally minded Frenchmen to dig a little deeper. Doing so has led to the discovery that God really does provide even if we sometimes don’t see it.
Interest in spirituality flourishes in France. Secular philosophers now question secularism and its dearth of truly human values. Millions of French people are looking for a spiritual root to life.
Both Christianity and Islam are on the rise. But Christianity is growing faster, in its many forms. Catholics, mainline Protestants, Evangelicals and Pentecostals all show growth in one way or another.
As far back as 2003, the French Bible Society reported sales of 80,000 Bibles in a single month. Even supermarkets now display Bibles for sale.
All of this is good news. Make that great news. But we know that the real conservation of the harvest will come in the form of disciplemaking and the multiplication of new churches—Ask the Lord of the harvest…!