We (church workers) have been aware for a number of years, that the fastest growing evangelical church in France was the Anglican Church establishing parishes in France to cater for its ex-pats. And I use the description 'evangelical' knowingly because many of these congregations have a vision of impacting their local community.
From time to time I buy an English paper called The Connexion which is full of articles about French politics, economics, helpful legal advice to ex-pats and ads for services where 'English is spoken'. Many are from ex-pats themselves setting up business in France. With house prices in the United Kingdom being so high, many were selling up and buying here in order to find a better standard of living (ie get away from the rain!!!). Many have retired here. Many have contributed to renovating lovely old buildings that the French couldn't afford to do. Some deserted villages have been entirely bought up by Dutch, for example, who re-build everything then rent out to holiday makers, especially from other countries.
However, the English in particular have brought their faith with them and, funnily enough, the French are very partial to their version of faith! Just as cup cakes are in fashion, and Gospel has been appreciated and sung everywhere, now Christmas Carol services are the 'must' and local Anglican communities (as well as other international churches) are making the most of this desire to really experience Christmas by organizing Carol concerts and home-made mince pies for their communities.
The English churches bring with them the community activities and spirit typical of their culture and the article gives a whole list of chances to meet together, to help one another and others, socialize, offer mother and toddler groups, etc; and chances to explore the Christian faith.
Rev Jeremy Cross of Christ Church, Brittany, has also noticed congregations are growing because "many people are happy to find a readymade English-speaking community".
The article concludes: "Whether in search of deaper meaning, family support, security, companionship, good works or even mince pies, the English-speaking flocks continue to worship."
In my experience, people are often more open to 'the idea of God' when taken out of their usual context or comfort zone. That can be through difficult circumstances, crises, change of lifestyle, travel, camps, adventures of all sorts. It's one area churches can help in and why it's so important to support Christian camps and seminars.
I have often longed for our anglo-saxon way of organizing our church life, because it does promote more chances to confront faith and to grow. But have always thought the French have to find their own way of provoking encounters, conversations, community experiences and bonding. In order for Christian community to endure, it has to be relevant to its base culture, although we missionaries are always confronted with the need for Christian faith to question cultural practices in the light of Biblical principles. So when I see growing evidence of French Christian initiatives, I rejoice and praise the Lord for the maturation of His Church here.
* the CNEF - conseil national des évangéliques en France
* a new Masters Degree in Church planting
* a coordinated effort to plant churches based on reliable statistics and wise use of resources
* the growth of Christian counselling which is vital to help Christians find balance and well-being (I don't mean in a new-age, individualistic selfishness, but in a wholesome, mature Christian way which allows Christians to fulfill their 'mission' in God's Kingdom)
* the growing number of training sessions on many subjects, including the all-important theme of CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP
* the growth of the Christian artistic and music industry/ministry.
And the list continues. This is on the national level, but I should find more local examples, especially in our own domain, (otherwise, I might feel discouraged about the impact or usefulness of our ministries!!!)
To be continued....