26 November 2012
Church planting in France
Next year's World Day of Prayer will be focusing not on Malaysia, Chile or Cameroon (as the last three did), but on our neighbouring France.
While France is often thought to be a Catholic country, now only five per cent of the country would identify themselves as such, and 74 per cent of French people have never opened a Bible. And although when thinking of France we often imagine great food, good wine and a long cultural history, it also has the highest rates of depression in the world.
Michele Guinness, author of Autumn Leave, described going to France with her husband on his sabbatical: "We both knew that France was something of a spiritual wilderness, especially in the rural areas and small towns of the western half, from Normandy south.
"But it's only when you're there and meet people who travel 45 minutes to an hour to get to church every Sunday that you realise how desperate it is."
Over 90 per cent of the country's towns and villages have no evangelical church. However, the evangelical church has seen a growth of nearly 10 times since 1950, and half of this number are younger than 35.
And there is a new evangelical church planted somewhere in France every 10 days.
Michele Guinness went on: "The small evangelical church we eventually found was the first Protestant church for 400 years in an area of around 200 square miles and some 40,000 people. It was incredibly warm and welcoming, but as in so many French churches, the 30 or so regulars are beset by personality clashes in the leadership."
She described the problems the churches in France often face: "Worship leaders are harder to find than fish and chips.
"We sing to accompaniment of a single guitar, or recorder – if the players aren't away – British songs we sang 30 years ago in the UK, with words that don't fit the tune in translation.
"There isn't enough money for a minister, and great paucity in the preaching."
France Mission is a French-led organisation which after its foundation in 1957 now has 56 churches in 11 regions of France.
Fourteen of France Mission's 125 missionaries are from the UK, and the France Mission Trust is a UK-registered charity which has been supporting its work since 1974.
Michele said: "France Mission does a great job, encouraging leadership, stronger churches and church-planting in a country where evangelicals can still be seen as a sect.
"Much prayer is needed that French Christians will find dynamic, attractive and reassuring ways of sharing their faith in a wonderfully rich culture that nonetheless knows the Gospel so little, and treats the Church with unveiled suspicion."