France: The Success of Evangelical Protestantism

Source: FSSPX News

Today, “an Evangelical church opens every ten days in France,” according to Le Monde. The Evangelical nebula encompasses millions of faithful in France, including those who occasionally practice. There is no lack of reasons to explain the rapid expansion of a religion which poses a challenge for French Catholicism.

In France, from 1950 to 2024, the number of Protestants rose from 50,000 regular churchgoers to 750,000, with an increase in places of worship listed “which went from 2,000 to 3,000 in fifteen years,” Le Figaro explains, whereas 42,000 Catholic churches were merged to form around 10,000 parishes, which gather barely two million faithful, more or less regularly.

The Evangelicals have a goal: “to attain the ratio of one place of worship for every 10,000 inhabitants,” or 6,200 temples, according to Le Monde. How can such dynamism be explained? One of the reasons that comes to mind is the decline of the Catholic matrix of a country that was formerly the Eldest Daughter of the Church.

Faced with the challenge of a postmodern society which is becoming increasingly secular, entangled for half a century—in the name of an ambiguous aggiornamento—in both its theological and liturgical contradictions, the Church of France has not managed to serenely enter into a 21st century which seems to be placed more under the seal of Evangelical Protestantism than under that of Catholicism.

The result: the children of yesterday’s faithful Catholics are tempted by an “off-trail” spirituality outside of the institutional and confessional framework of a Church that struggles to convince. An “it’s my choice” mentality is now substituted for the traditional commandments of God and the Church, which have not been invoked nor taught much by those who are responsible for that.

Among Evangelicals, what emerges is a nebula of small, often very heterogeneous communities, which resemble anything but a unified movement: this is why, “in 2010, a national structure was created, the CNEF”—National Council of French Evangelicals—which today brings together almost two thirds of the dedicated places of worship in the country.

A structure that took ten years of work to see the light of day: “Evangelical Protestantism is struck by an almost pathological tendency toward fragmentation,” Stéphane Lauzet, an Evangelical worship minister who collaborated in the birth of CNEF, recognizes, quoted by Le Figaro.

The migratory factor also comes into play in explaining this success: the populations of Asian or African origin that most recently settled in France brought with them the religion in which they grew up.

This is what historian and sociologist Sébastien Fath, a specialist in the study of Protestantism, highlights: according to him, the Evangelical movement remains “very popular in communities of immigrant origin,” but also, he points out, “where State and social services are absent, because this religion is distinguished by very strong social ties,” in a conference at the CNRS.

Social ties that the quasi-general dissolution of the Catholic parish fabric has weakened, but which still exist and have been transferred elsewhere, nature always abhorring a vacuum.

For that matter—is it a coincidence?—the “spiritual reproduction rate,” or the capacity of a religion to transmit its fundamentals, remains at present higher in Islam and the Evangelical movement than within Catholicism, according to Guillaume Cuchet, quoted by La Croix, without forgetting the evangelization of non-Christians, which is accomplished in an uninhibited way by Evangelicals, where many Catholics see a misplaced proselytism, even within the hierarchy.

Is the downgrading of French Catholicism complete? Nothing is definitive in the matter, and the great spiritual even that saw thousands of pilgrims walk on the roads of Chartres and Beauce are there to prove that a Catholicism proud of its traditions still has something to say.