“With the summer of 2023 beginning, many French people aspire to think outside the box. The “discovery packs” are successful with their side roads, unusual houses and impromptu encounters. This taste for the “off-piste” is also found in terms of the modes of appropriation of Christianity. We owe the expression to the sociologist and demographer Yves Lambert, author of a memorable God changes in Brittany, La religion à Limerzel de 1900 à nos jours (1985).
Moving from the study of the common evidence of Christianity to the contemporary recompositions of Croire, Yves Lambert had spotted, at the end of the 20th century, a growing tendency to the spiritual “off-piste”. But this enthusiasm was then rather localized on the side of new religious movements and floating spiritualities, outside of the major religions. The relative novelty, in recent years, is the spectacular growth of an “off-piste” within Christianity itself, outside the denominational frameworks (Catholicism, Protestantism, Orthodoxy).
The TEO 2 (Trajectories and Origins) survey, made public by INSEE in the spring of 2023, gives us an idea of the extent of the trend. In twelve years, the number of “other Christians” has more than doubled, reaching 9%. Almost as much as the Muslim total (10%). In addition, 29% of those questioned declare themselves to be Catholic, against 43% twelve years earlier. The decline is spectacular. It is interpreted by the historian Guillaume Cuchet as the mark of a decline that would ultimately threaten the status of Catholicism as the country’s first religion.
The explosion of “other Christians” (9% of the population in 2023 according to INSEE) does not cease to question. Who are they, who are they? These “other Christians” are not all evangelicals, far from it. The latest overall demographic estimate, proposed in 2021, listed 1.6% of the population as Evangelical Protestant. Given their proselytizing dynamics, marked in particular by the rise of mega-churches in Île-de-France, let’s admit that evangelicalism has since increased its share, to approach 1.8 or even 2% of the population.
“They don’t fit in the boxes”
To go further would distort reality. What to do with the other 7%? Who are these “other Christians”? Lutheran and Reformed Protestants represent 0.9% of the population, other Protestants (Adventists, etc.), 0.5%. The Orthodox/Oriental Churches would be around 1%, the postcolonial Prophetic Churches, 0.2%. There are still about 4.5% Christians. Where are they?
Obviously, they do not fit into the existing denominational boxes. This is why they can rightly be called “off-road” Christians, unattached to the usual Christian labels. Generic Christians, in short, reluctant to the ready-made doctrinal and ecclesial paths. 4.5% of the population amounts to three million French men and women. Christians, but without labels.
Deinstitutionalization of Christianity
Three factors seem to explain this tendency towards the Christian “off-track”. First, the continued growth of a kerygmatic ecumenism (centered on the Gospel), like the Jesus Festival of Paray-le-Monial (from July 7 to 9, 2023), which brings together beyond confessional . Then, the COVID effect: for two years, many Christians have developed new religious uses of the Internet, browsing from one Church to another. With the effect of loosening confessional ties in favor of a generic faith.
Finally, the continuation and acceleration of a process of deinstitutionalization of Christianity: the “it’s my choice” has replaced the “you must” of religious authority. These factors have swelled the ranks of “off-road” believers. Three million “other Christians” who question our categories and invent new ways of being witnesses of Christ. »