In what both International Mission Board church planter Michael Harrington and Pastor Glyn Hackett describe as “post-Christian” France, the need for church planting is great.
Harrington, who has been a church planter in France for the past 12 years, believes France was once “in a sense, a Christian nation,” he explained. While Catholicism dominated the religious background, there was a Protestant presence as well. In contrast, many in present-day France aren’t even familiar with the story of Jesus.
“France is well below the 2% evangelical Christian mark,” said Harrington, describing the spiritual climate now. “Even though we have a rich history of Christianity, today the cathedrals are empty. The Protestant churches that do exist tend to be bare-bones at best. And the evangelical churches that we see are, in fact, growing, but they are very small and scattered.”
He noted, “There is a need for more churches in more areas reaching more people.”
‘One of the most atheistic countries in the world’
Glyn Hackett, pastor of Église Évangélique Baptiste de Strasbourg, France, echoes this sentiment.
“France is still one of the most atheistic countries in the world. There is spiritual hunger, a thirst, and a lot of it has turned toward various forms of occultism,” Hackett explained.
However, because of the disillusionment with formal and empty religion among the French people, Hackett senses his people are wanting to turn toward “something much more personal and relational with God.”
Hackett believes church planting in his city and the region beyond is the key to effective evangelism.
Large parts of the country have no evangelical presence. In Strasbourg, there is less than one evangelical church for each 10,000 residents.
Hackett continued, “People need to see a localized expression of Christian faith, a vibrant expression of faith in the local community.”
Hackett also believes this church planting movement is best done in close partnership with IMB missionaries.
“I’m not a missionary. I was a teacher here, and then I became a pastor; I’m paid by the church. But the missionaries who come in, they bring in ideas and a freshness and a new look at things. And that helps to give things momentum.”
When the missionaries present a vision Hackett’s church can get behind, his members begin to think, “All right, we can do it. So that’s how it works; let’s go!”
Training church planters in the pews
With willing French national church members in mind, a church planting training was designed by Conseil National des Évangéliques de France and is offered regionally where there’s demand throughout France.
Harrington, as an IMB church planter, is leading a team of 12 from Église Évangélique Baptiste de Strasbourg through the program. His team includes four missionary colleagues as well as eight national believers. Across the region, around 30 are taking part in the training, and more than a dozen are being trained in Southern France as well.
“Together with a handful of local pastors/leaders, we have a vision to see a church planted in every neighborhood of our city, as well as people being trained and sent to villages, other cities and other regions,” Harrington explained.
This two-year curriculum combines one full day of classroom learning per month, three weekend retreats and monthly reading and practical assignments throughout.
Harrington’s team began their first session Jan. 8.
“This first session was enthusiastically received and there is a great spirit of unity, energy and hope amongst us,” he shared.
The goal is to train the French church to plant French churches, thereby reaching their own people in a way outsiders simply cannot.
“I think effective church planting in France must come from the French people,” Harrington said. “I’m here because the French church requests and desires help from outside … a bit of a push in some areas. We’re able to provide that.”
He continued, “But no matter how long I live in France, no matter how much I study the French language, I will never be French. The French people will hear the gospel most clearly, most convictingly and convincingly from other French believers. We really do want to equip, work with and really push to the forefront the French national believers here in the country.”
Harrington asks for churches in the United States to pray for the work his team is doing.
“France is an incredibly apathetic country, and there is no perfect method to cut through apathy like prayer. We need prayer to reach the French people. It is God and God alone who will change hearts.”