The accelerating decline of religious faith since the 18th Century has seen France's Catholic and mainline Protestant legacies plummet in recent years, even as atheism has grown. Hostility toward organized religion as well as the privatization of spirituality mean that regular attendance in any church is below 8%. Some surveys show that over 30% of French people are non-religious. Most French have a profound ignorance of, or indifference to, the gospel, many having never meaningfully encountered it. Yet, the relativism of postmodernity has generated acute emptiness and existential angst; as many have noted, this in turn has created a spiritual hunger that has grown rapidly in recent years. Pray that such hunger might overcome the suspicion toward religion. Pray that Christians would be prepared to patiently and relationally share Jesus with those who seek.
Evangelical Christians are few (1.0% across all confessions), split between many denominations and confessions. They demonstrate high levels of commitment and are a younger population than France's average. Growth is steady, and a new congregation is planted almost every week. Pentecostals and charismatics are the fastest growing. This is all in the face of strong secularizing trends in public life.
The unreached sectors of French society are many, such as:
- The nearly 50 million French people who have no real link with a Christian church.
- Many urban areas, where evangelical presence is proportionately low. Inner-city Paris, Nantes, Nancy and other cities need many more congregations planted.
- Of the 37,000 communes, around 35,000 have no evangelical church. Many rural communes are quite traditional and resistant to change. More than 300 towns and cities of over 10,000 people have no evangelical presence.
- The Loire Valley and Brittany, Picardy and Centre regions are particularly lacking in evangelical congregations.
- The Basques in the southwest are virtually without an evangelical witness in their language; they are suspicious of outside influences and allegedly quite disinterested in spiritual things.
- The island of Corsica, birthplace of Napoleon, is quite closed to outside influences. In the population of 290,000, there are perhaps 300 evangelical believers.
The unreached minorities. France has integrated several waves of immigrants in the past two centuries, but it has not always been easy. Recent difficulties with integrating immigrant communities have led to tightened policies, a climate of fear and insecurity and increasing frustration for both sides. Pray about the following:
- The French Jewish community ranks third in the world in size, following the USA and Israel. There are between 580,000 and 700,000 French Jews - 320,000 in Paris alone and a further 100,000 in Marseille. Of the total Jewish population, 77% never attend a synagogue service. There are about 600 Messianic Jews in France - 95% of these are integrated into evangelical churches. The other 5% are affiliated with the three known Messianic assemblies. Fewer than 20 workers in six missions labour among Jewish people in France (MT, CWI, JFJ, CPM and the French TMPI). A number of French Jews are leaving as a result of increasing anti-Semitism, perpetrated by some Muslims and the far-right-wing movements.
- North Africans are almost entirely Muslim, few having ever heard the gospel. The majority live in large, low-cost housing areas in larger cities; antagonism between them and the French majority - coupled with unemployment, discrimination and hopeless frustration among youth - make for a ticking time bomb. Pray for churches and agencies seeking to break down barriers through friendship evangelism, radio, film, BCCs and literature. Believers of Muslim backgrounds do enjoy good relations with other evangelicals, a good testimony to Muslims and atheists alike. Agencies involved: AWM, Cru, WEC, IMB and OM.
- The Berbers form a large minority among the North Africans and possibly make up the majority of Algerians. Kabyle believers are increasing in number, although not on the scale of growth happening among their brethren in Algeria. Christian videos, audio resources, radio programmes and literature in Kabyle are being developed.
- Black Africans have come in large numbers from Francophone Africa as students, refugees and work-seekers. There is great imbalance in Christian presence and ministry among them, with vibrant churches full of Central Africans while the West African Bambara, Wolof, Malinke, Soninke and others languish with few Christians and little outreach.
- The large number of Indo-Chinese refugees of the 1970s and '80s from France's former colonies retain a mostly insular existence. There are over 82 Asian evangelical churches, including 33 Chinese, 17 Korean, 11 Hmong and 9 Vietnamese. There is a definite shortfall of pastors and full-time workers for these people who remain unreached. COCM (Chinese) and CMA (Southeast Asians) are two groups ministering among Asians.
Youth ministries are vital in a nation suffering a crisis among young people. A generation has grown up with a crisis of identity, with young people longing for meaning, purpose and belonging. The steep rise in violent crime among youth, high rates of youth unemployment (23%, and up to 40% among ethnic minorities) and Europe's highest rate of youth suicide point to a deep malaise. Once believers, young people are often strongly committed to spiritual community. But they need deep and lasting discipleship to instil a Kingdom worldview, replacing the permissive amoral relativism they are used to.
- Children's ministry - AEE/CEF ministers through Good News Clubs, Holiday Bible Clubs and camps. From their Paris base, French literature for children is exported around the world.
- Young people are receptive to the gospel, having experienced the emptiness of secularism in their parents' generation. Many groups specialize in this ministry - YFC, YWAM, Cru, Young Life, TEAM and Jeunesse de l'Action Biblique are but a few. Camps and youth clubs are the main locus of ministry: Teen Challenge among drug addicts, SU through publishing and the Internet. Pray for many young people to be saved and integrated into good evangelical churches - the latter step usually being much harder than the former!
- Youth networks and movements are emerging to encourage and connect French Christian youth. Some examples of groups and events are Mission Radicale, ON AIR, Alive-3 and Teen Street. Pray for this fire to spread and grow and to have a national impact among young people, saved and unsaved.
- There are over two million students in tertiary education in hundreds of universities and grandes écoles. Of these, 270,000 are foreign students (the world's third-highest number), so ministry to these students has global implications! Witness in this highly secular and post-Christian environment can be difficult. Evangelical ministry has been slow to develop, but now there are 85 GBU(IFES) groups. Cru, Navigators and Crossworld also have campus ministries, as does the French-originated Foyer Evangélique Universitaire (FEU). Students are more open than ever, especially foreign ones.
The Bible is alien to most French people - less than 10% own a Bible and 80% have never even handled one. Yet, Bible sales are at an all-time high, spurred by the spiritual hunger evident among many and the availability of inexpensive ($2) Bibles in supermarkets and secular bookstores. Study Bibles are proving popular as well. The French Bible Society, Geneva Bible Society and Biblica all contribute to printing, sale and distribution of hundreds of thousands of copies every year.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.