For more than 30 years, the Versailles Church of the Nazarene existed quietly in a neighborhood just outside Paris, France. The church was so inconspicuous that most neighbors didn’t even know it was there, although they walked, drove, or jogged past it every day.
That is starting to change with the church’s new series of free public concerts, which began last fall.
In an effort to reach people in the community with the love of Christ, the congregation had the idea to host free concerts and invite residents to come enjoy the music. The concerts would be a gift to the community that would also create awareness and make people more comfortable entering the church.
About 12 of the church’s regular attenders joined more than 50 curious people from the city for a classical music concert featuring a local composer, a soprano vocalist, and a pianist.
“I watched a lot of faces and a lot of people were really enchanted by the music,” said Melody Terrien, a member of the congregation. “Some of them actually closed their eyes and nodded with the music. It was really exciting to see the sanctuary filled with more than just Nazarenes.”
Afterward, attendees mingled over coffee and snacks. The visitors admired the stained glass windows and the elegance of the stone chapel, which is about 100 years old. Terrien heard many say they would be back for future concerts.
There were also brochures available on the tables about how Protestants — among which is the Church of the Nazarene denomination — are different from Catholics, the dominant branch of Christianity in the French culture. Many French believe that evangelical churches are cults and are equally suspicious of other Protestant denominations. This skepticism has made it difficult for the Church of the Nazarene in France to reach the native French population over the years.
Missionary Brian Ketchum, who is involved in the Versailles church, said that four visitors asked him questions about the church during the coffee time.
The next concert — a Gospel music presentation — will be held in May.
The concerts are just the first of a series of services to the community that the church is planning. During the past month, Versailles has begun a food distribution ministry to people who are struggling economically, and they are discussing the possibility of offering art and language classes, as well.
These type of activities demonstrate to the French that “there are some things we hold as common points of value, like the arts and music,” Ketchum said. “For French people that’s very important."
“This isn’t about direct evangelism,” he added. “There won’t be an altar call or any announcements made to people who want to know Christ. If that comes out in conversation afterwards, awesome, but we really want to allow the community to get to know the church, the values of the church, the people of the church.”
For a church that has been invisible in the community for many years, “the first step is to become known, and that worked really well with the first concert,” Terrien said. "I really hope that souls will be brought into the Kingdom, and in order to get there, we have to become known.”