The population of France is around 65 million, 20 per cent living in the Paris area. Public life in France is ruled by the republican idea of liberty, equality and fraternity. This means neutrality with regard to religion, which is absent from politics or education.
Laws exist regulating religious practice, and minority groups only tend to run into difficulties with the authorities when they act outside the law.
France is a mission field, even if the Roman Church tries to keep up appearances and can mobilise large numbers. France is a highly secularised country; religious practice is low, particularly in the cities.
Over the last 50 years, Catholicism has lost France. It has ageing clergy and a problem recruiting priests. Only about 14 per cent of Catholics regularly attend mass. Religious education and Bible studies are often led by lay people and there is a renewed interest in the Bible.
Over five million Muslims, largely of North African origin, live in inner cities and housing developments; about the same percentage practise as in Catholicism. Islam has low visibility, confined largely to prayer rooms, owing to the policy of discouraging the building of mosques. In some towns, Friday prayer is sometimes conducted in the street.
1.5 million claim to be Protestants (with 600,000 practising) and there are 500,000 Jews. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are active. Around three million (often disenchanted Catholics) are involved in New Age spiritualities, mostly Buddhist practices. The Dalai Lama is now a popular and respected media figure.
A growing percentage of the under 30s is agnostic or indifferent and there is a new current of radical atheism. Darwinism and Freudianism still rule in academic circles.
For the average French person, Protestantism means freedom of conscience and tolerance, and the Reformation is seen as a forerunner of the French Revolution. Several leading political figures in the Mitterrand era were nominal Protestants. Many Protestants vote on the left, as the right is traditionally Catholic.
In recent years, there has been a change in Protestantism. Evangelicals are outgrowing the broad mainline churches, which are decreasing. At present there are 460,000 evangelicals and over 40 denominations; over half are Pentecostals or Charismatics.
Since 1970, 1500 new evangelical churches have been created. This encouraging growth is partly a result of immigration. Many churches are small (over 100 people is a large church in France). However, the French middle class remains largely untouched by evangelicalism.
In 2007, evangelical churches across the spectrum established the National Council of French Evangelicals (CNEF) to represent their interests to other Protestants; and in society, in particular, against the accusation of sectarianism.
Please pray for the growing church planting movement; for a deepening biblical faith to accompany recent church growth; and for a renewal in preaching, biblical teaching and evangelism. Pray too that the temptations of neo-evangelicalism, ecumenism and compromise with liberal Protestantism be resisted. Pray for the training of candidates for the ministry (especially the seminaries at Aix-en-Provence and Vaux-sur-Seine near Paris, and the Bible colleges at Nogent and Geneva); and for the ministry of the CNEF.
For information on a holiday church in France, visit www.eglises.org; and for statistics and other information on the CNEF web site, visit www.lecnef.org