“France itself is changing, and this is a reflection of this transition,” says Sebastian Fath, a researcher at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and an expert on evangelicalism.
For years, intellectuals proclaimed the end of Christianity in France, swallowed by the tides of modernity, science, and reason. Protestants were mostly evicted or "invited to leave" during the Counter-Reformation in the 17th century. The use of religious language and symbols was outlawed in public in the years after the French Revolution against the Catholic nobility. “Having faith” or “being spiritual” is often seen as odd, or a form of ignorance, or superstition.
Yet studies show a different story on the ground. Daniel Liechti, vice-president of the French National Evangelical Council, found that since 1970, a new evangelical church has opened in France every 10 days. The number of churches increased from 769 to 2,068 last year.
Evangelicalism has been growing quietly since the 1950s. The number of practitioners has risen from 55,000 to 460,000 today, with another 140,000 believers who identify as faithful. Gypsy Protestants account for roughly 70,000 of evangelicals in France. Half of the country's Protestants are evangelicals, according to CNRS figures.
Most of this activity takes place far off the French cultural radar, although the phenomenon stretches beyond smaller suburbs and towns.