Church Planting in a Paris Montessori School
Picture this: a Montessori school in the twelfth neighbourhood of Paris, full of barefoot twenty- and thirty-year-olds singing worship songs in front of a projector. Piles of children’s books, games, brass bells, and bits of bark and leaves lie next to Bibles and jackets. Curious passersby glance through the windows at the group, perplexed.
Upon visiting Église de la Rive Droite, the church plant launched by GEM workers Emilee and Doug Irwin and French Congolese pastor Nathan Kimbi in January 2023, my first impression was one of intense energy. The room, part of a Montessori school and rented by the small congregation weekly, vibrated with the laughter and chatter of about ten young French people of varying ethnic backgrounds, reflecting Paris’s spectacular diversity.
From the beginning of their involvement with GEM six years ago, the Irwins had always dreamed of being part of a church plant, initially an English-speaking one in Lille, France. However, during language school, “God changed our hearts so that we were uniquely burdened for the French and for Paris,” Doug shared, exchanging a smile with Emilee over the kitchen table. This convinced the couple of the importance of discipling people in their heart language.
The Irwins started their first term of ministry in partnership with the Evangelical church Église Connexion. Upon returning to France for their second term, they met a young French Congolese pastor named Nathan and began planning their church plant, which took off in January of this year.
Each Sunday, church starts with a time of prayer: for individual requests, for France, for church members and nonbelieving friends, for presence in the neighbourhood. These prayers reflect the larger vision of Église de la Rive Droite: to have a church planted at each metro stop in Paris.
Everyone stays a long time to chat after the service, sometimes so long they have to be gently “kicked out” to respect the rental agreement with the Montessori school. “That’s something we’ve learned: we have to create space for this culturally,” Emilee observed. “People want to talk and visit.” Even first-time visitors stay afterwards to chat for an hour.
Despite people’s interest in the church plant, forming a biblical church body in a post-Christian society is difficult. Currently, the church’s biggest challenge is combatting false teaching. Many congregants have come from prosperity gospel or sectarian backgrounds, so they are “learning how to think biblically, getting a strong theological foundation, and moving away from old tendencies.” Doug explained that these false teachings are rampant in France.
Part of the challenge—and, of course, the beauty—is the mixed demographic of the church. While most of the congregants grew up in France or Belgium, many of them grew up attending ethnic churches—Cambodian, Kenyan, Madagascan, Congolese—and so come from multiple theological backgrounds.
Doug specified two goals of the young church body: discipleship and training of pastors and elders. “France desperately needs pastors,” he explained. “There are so many churches that don’t have a pastor.” Because of this, equipping and sending out young pastors is “worth a big investment.”
This overwhelming need has led to Club Prédication, an initiative started by Nathan and Doug to train future leaders. “We have elected to raise up four young guys as elders who are preaching their first sermons,” Doug explained. This involves learning how to preach, getting feedback, attending preaching conferences, and being discipled. The goal is to plant a new church in two years.
The church is “seeing a lot of growth, not in numbers but in the development of the church’s DNA: what will be important to us as a body, what we’ll focus on, and how we will glorify God through those things,” commented Emilee. “We’re building a good foundation of discipleship and small-group accountability so that we can grow in numbers later on.”
But Emilee, who also serves as the leader of the GEM Arts Ministry Area, has another special vision for Église de la Rive Droite: “To welcome artists well into our congregation.”
As part of Emilee’s role of connecting Christian artists across Europe, she works with a local art ministry called Agape Arts. “I would like to strengthen the connection between artists and the local church,” she explained. This means networking, starting a discovery Bible study and discipleship relationship with artists, and eventually inviting these artists to church.
The goals of Église de la Rive Droite are summed up well by co-pastor Nathan Kimbi: “Our vision is to form a church that lives with accountability, preaches the gospel, disciples young people, and studies the word. Thank you for praying for us.”
To learn more about ministry opportunities in France or to join the GEM France team seeking to make disciples in Paris, click here.
About the author:
Kara Barlow is a GEM intern in Rome, Italy working with migrants and serving as a storyteller.