A growing popular religious interest and a renewed concern to avoid religious restrictions and prejudice are helping to reshape evangelical churches in France, reports Christianity Today (March).
Popular and intellectual interest in religious issues in France is expressed in increased Bible sales, coverage of spirituality in the media, and greater receptivity toward evangelistic efforts, writes Agnieszka Tennant. Evangelicals, who have grown to about 350,000 since the 1950s [see September 2002 RW for more on evangelical growth in France], are benefiting from and being challenged by these trend as they seek to retool their methods to reach a more mainstream audience.
There is a greater interchange between Catholic and evangelical churches, with parishes using the latter’s Alpha evangelism programs of evangelism and even using their teachers in parochial schools. Renewed government attempts to restrict public religious expression–such as in a move to restrict religion on university campuses — has hurt the evangelicals’ expansion even while making them more adept at avoiding sectarian stereotypes; for instance, they now use the “Protestant” label like the mainline Lutheran and Reformed churches. But it is among immigrants where the French evangelicals are having the greatest impact.
African immigrants, even those with Muslim backgrounds, are joining the ranks of these churches. Some Muslims may attend their prayer services on Friday nights and also go to evangelical services on Sunday (often assuming different names to keep their identity a secret). One source knows of 17 support groups for Muslim converts to Christianity that have formed in the last 10 years. The article speculates that evangelical churches may even be agents in preventing immigrants from becoming involved in criminal and radical Islamic groups as they help them assimilate through finding them friends, apartments and jobs.
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