International missionary Michael Harrington: 'The cathedrals are empty'

IMB missionary Michael Harrington leads a Bible study with the youth at the Baptist Church of Strasbourg, France. (Photo/IMB)
IMB missionary Michael Harrington leads a Bible study with the youth at the Baptist Church of Strasbourg, France. (Photo/IMB)

STRASBOURG, France – If there’s an upside to being a missionary in France, it’s that it’s easy to find unchurched people to share the gospel with.

They’re everywhere.

“Even though we have a rich history of Christianity, today, the cathedrals are empty,” said Michael Harrington, who, for the past 12 years, has been working as an International Mission Board church planter based in Strasbourg. “The Protestant churches that do exist tend to be barebones at best. And the evangelical churches that we see are, in fact, growing, but they are very small and scattered.”

Harrington said France’s population is less than 2 percent evangelical.

“There is a need for more churches in more areas reaching more people,” he said.

Glyn Hackett, pastor of Église Évangélique Baptiste de Strasbourg, is championing Harrington's church-planting initiative because, he said, France is in desperate need of more churches.

“France is still one of the most atheistic countries in the world,” he said. “There is spiritual hunger, a thirst, and a lot of it has turned toward various forms of occultism.”

Large parts of the country have no evangelical presence. In Strasbourg, there is less than one evangelical church for each 10,000 residents

“People need to see a localized expression of Christian faith, a vibrant expression of faith, in the local community,” Hackett said.

Hackett said IMB missionaries are offering fresh ideas about ways to plant new churches, and that has created an excitement among French Christians.

“Together with a handful of local pastors/leaders, we have a vision to see a church planted in every neighborhood of our city, as well as people being trained and sent to villages, other cities and other regions,” Harrington said.

The goal is to train French churches to plant French churches, thereby reaching their own people in a way outsiders simply cannot.

“I think that effective church planting in France must come from the French people,” Harrington said. “I’m here because the French church requests and desires help from outside; desires a bit of a push in some areas. We’re able to provide that. But no matter how long I live in France, no matter how much I study the French language, I will never be French. The French people will hear the gospel most clearly, most convictingly and convincingly from other French believers. We really do want to equip, work with, and really push to the forefront the French national believers here in the country.”