Why Go to Church?
Living in southern France, I took French classes at a local university last year. One day, we learned how to give directions. My professor taught us basic phrases to help people: “take a left,” “take a right,” “cross the street,” and other simple but useful commands.
Using a city map in our language books, she asked us how to get to various places. Each time she asked for directions, she gave us a reason she wanted to go to there. “I would like to get a book; how do I get to the library?” “I want a croissant; how do I get to the bakery?”
Practically every French map identifies church locations, and l’église or “the church” is a vocabulary word everyone learns. My professor asked us how to get to the church…and stopped. She tried to think of a reason she wanted or needed to go to a church but couldn’t come up with one. It became an awkward, uncomfortable silence. Finally, she said she needed to meet someone in front of the church.
The only reason she could come up with to go to a church was to meet someone—not a wedding, not a funeral, not Christmas or Easter. She simply wanted to meet a friend in front of the church to go somewhere else.
I had always heard French people were secular and non-religious. Many claim to be both Roman Catholic and atheists. Their “religion” is entirely cultural. While I knew this factually, this moment was the first time I experienced it.
Recently, I talked to Pedro Garcia, the outreach pastor at The Donelson Fellowship, about atheism in Europe. He grew up as an atheist in Spain before coming to know Christ as Savior. When we talked, he used the term apatheist. According to Pedro, most European atheists don’t consider themselves atheists—not because they believe in God; they have never thought about it. They simply don’t care. They are apathetic toward God and anything supernatural.
In the United States, most atheists consciously choose to believe God does not exist. In Europe, people are atheists because they simply never have thought about Him. From an early age, children in the French school system are taught that people who believe in God are stupid. The French think they have outgrown God. They put their trust in science and regard spiritual things as silly superstitions. This makes sharing the gospel with many French people difficult.
How do you share the gospel with someone who—at best—has never thought of God’s existence as a real possibility? Or who, at worst, thinks you are stupid for believing in Him? This is the reality for ministry among the French. Pray with us for God to move in the hearts and lives of these disinterested people, so they will know He is real, and He cares for them, even if they have never cared about or even considered Him.
About the Author: Jacob (last name withheld for security reasons) is an English teacher serving with The Hanna Project. He has done humanitarian work in Cote d’Ivoire and helped with an English, Music, and Sports Camp in Bulgaria. Jacob is using English as a means for improving the lives of North African immigrants in Southern France. Learn more: hannaproject.com.