A new French megachurch

Paul Cooke reports on the development of the Église Martin Luther King in Créteil

Most of France’s 2,500 churches will have a modest Sunday attendance of less than 100. Among churches in the Perspectives network, the average may be closer to half that figure. That’s fine: smaller churches can generate wonderfully warm fellowships where everyone feels like part of an extended family. But there’s also an important role for larger churches in God’s economy. One of the largest in France is the Église Martin Luther King (MLK) in Créteil, a town of over 92,000 people just 7 miles south-east of the centre of Paris, and capital of the Val-de-Marne department. Although I don’t know the church personally, I was intrigued by the media reports that accompanied the opening of its new premises last month and thought readers might also be interested to learn more.

MLK is part of the Assemblies of God denomination (Assemblées de Dieu or ADD in French). The ADD account for 16% of France’s evangelical churches – the largest share of any denomination – and play a major role in the CNEF (National Council of French Evangelicals). Many of its churches would correspond closely to the model of classic Pentecostalism. But MLK deliberately cultivates a more open position, signalled by the fact that it’s one of the rare ADD churches that also belongs to the FPF (French Protestant Federation).

MLK’s lead pastor is Ivan Carluer. He grew up in a traditional Pentecostal church in Brittany and trained as an economics teacher. Although he planted an ADD church in Créteil with a handful of members in 2004,he continued to work as a teacher for the next nine years. But, as the church grew, he made the move from bi-vocational ministry to full-time pastoring. Growth meant having to change premises in 2008 and again in 2017 before embarking on the major building project that was inaugurated on 11th September 2021.

The name Martin Luther King was adopted by the new church to align with its core values of grace, diversity, transparency, and innovation. Dr King, of course, was not a Pentecostal; rather, he was a Baptist minister associated with liberal theological positions. However, the MLK Church is primarily commemorating his role as an inspirational civil rights leader and as a man who took his faith into the public square.

MLK is deliberately oriented towards its not-yet-Christian neighbours. Built on a site covering 9,000 square metres and costing over €20m, the complex is owned by the Fondation du Protestantisme who let its rooms and sports facilities to various organisations during the week. The town authorities of Créteil provide subsidies for the non-religious part of the centre’s activities. And the French Minister of the Interior even recorded a short video for MLK’s inauguration service in which he underlined “how much France’s Protestants, whatever their origins, are helping the Republic improve every day”! A welcome change of tone from some of his comments earlier in the year…

MLK currently runs two in-person Sunday services in its auditorium that seats 1000+. But its YouTube channel has over 43,000 subscribers! Half of the church’s resources are therefore devoted to its role as a local church (MLK Grand Paris) and the other half to supporting its online community (MLK chez vous). The church aims to be genuinely multicultural and to be relevant to all social categories. As Ivan Carluer put it in a recent interview: “We believe in an evangelicalism open to all, where people can think, debate, and go deeper. We don’t want to put off well-qualified people with pat answers.”

It’s proving a popular approach: the church has grown from 20 to 2,000 over the past 17 years and the average age of attendees is 28 (two thirds women, one third men). Whether or not you’d personally enjoy belonging to a church like MLK, please pray that the Lord will use it to draw many people to Himself over the years ahead.

(The information in this article has largely been drawn from two articles by sociologist Sébastien Fath in Regards Protestants (see here and here) and from the church's own website.)

Contact

Paul Cooke

for further information