At a conference on the “European dynamics of evangelicalism”, which took place on Oct. 11-13, at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), French scholar Sébastien Fath indicated that there is a rapid rise of Pentecostalism in France.
While there were only a few thousands Pentecostals in France 50 years ago, there are now about 200,000 of them, belonging either to the Assemblies of God or to the thriving Evangelical Gypsy Mission. There are currently about 350,000 Evangelicals in France (including Pentecostals); they make up one-third of French Protestants. The landscape of French evangelicalism remains heterogeneous. The issue of Pentecostalism continues to be divisive among French Evangelicals, according to Fath’s observations.
In addition, as in other countries around the world, many small charismatic churches have appeared since the 1970s, with microstructures going against the trend toward larger structures. Evangelicals remain a minority within the mainline French Protestant Federation (FPF). One of the major issues for the future will be the discussion on the inclusion or non-inclusion of the Assemblies of God in the FPF. If its 100,000 followers would become part of the main organization bringing together French Protestants, the balance between the various currents within the FPF would be strongly modified.
In a paper discussed at the same conference, Steve Bruce of the University of Aberdeen remarked that even historically conservative Protestant organizations have declined in recent decades, although more slowly than liberal denominations. It seems that their slower declining rate may be attributed to their superior ability to retain members rather than to draw huge numbers of new recruits. But there is growth in other sectors. If one leaves out churches recruiting among immigrants as well as groups outside the Christian mainstream (significant growth of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons), Pentecostal groups and charismatic “house churches” have experienced the most impressive increase.
But independent evangelical associations and white Pentecostal churches have recently been experiencing a decline in attendance, too. New Charismatic churches have exploded indeed, but tend to lose their distinctiveness due to the relaxation of authoritarian structures. Bruce expects them to move in the denominational direction. If one is allowed to extrapolate from previous waves of change, they will then some day also begin to experience the pattern of decline.
— By Jean-François Mayer, lecturer on Religion at the University of Fribourg and freelance writer and researcher.