France is a secular society where only 15% of French citizens believe religion—any religion—is important in their lives. In large part, thanks to the dominance and power of the Roman Catholic church during the Enlightenment period and the French Revolution, people saw democracy as a way to liberate society from the rule of the church. The culture has embraced postmodernism and relativism of beliefs and morality, but this has come with an emptiness that has left the French looking for more1.
The Decline of Faith
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27 (NIV)
Throughout France, people are still looking for a way to fill the need for spiritual fulfillment. As a result, the occult has grown significantly and is becoming more and more common. There are over 100,000 occult workers registered with the government,2 more than three times the number of Christian pastors and Catholic priests.3 These include Mediums and Spiritual Healers. About half of the population believe in faith healing and a quarter frequent astrologists and other clairvoyants. More money is paid for occult consultations than to family doctors.3
As refugees and immigrants make their way to France from all around the Middle East and North Africa, they have brought their beliefs with them, primarily their belief in Islam. Overall, about 7.5% of the French population is estimated to be Muslim,4 with about 70,000-110,000 of that number being converts to Islam.5 Out of the total number of Muslims, 1/3 of that number are actual practicing Muslims.5 Fear of Muslims is strong in France. Despite the overall low numbers of Muslims in the country, some polls have shown that French citizens think that Muslims make up 31% of the population.4
As French secular society has continued to push against any displays of religion, especially those of Muslim headscarves, this has done little more than push Muslims away from the rest of society. This discrimination and rejection reverberates with young people who have been radicalized in alarming numbers. While many other countries in Europe have had people leave to fight for the Islamic State in Syria, over 400 have come from France. Muslims have been disproportionately found in other groups as well. In 2008 about 60-70% of French prison inmates were Muslims.4 While Islam itself is not an obstacle to spreading Christianity, the various laws and responses to the xenophobic fears that have come with the rise of Muslims in France reflect a growing distrust of religion in general.
The French know they need some kind of spiritual fulfillment, they just don't know where to obtain it. A recent study showed that 81 percent of the French believe science can't answer all of life's big questions.2 As one of our French friends put it: people have put their hope in everything, politicians, sports, whatever, and they've been let down every time. So now they are starting to be more open to Christianity. They think, 'everything else has failed me, so why not give it a try?'
1: http://www.operationworld.org/country/fran/owtext.html 2: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/15/opinion/15iht-edjohnson.1.7125416.html?mcubz=3, 3: https://impactfrance.org/evangelical-france/ 4: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/01/09/map-frances-growing-muslim-population/ 5: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_France