Evangelical churches understand people’s needs and are therefore attracting twice as many worshippers on Sundays as traditional Protestant churches in Switzerland, says a charismatic pastor who is also a sociologist of religion.
“The key strength of the Pentecostal movement is the idea that God intervenes in people’s everyday lives,” Olivier Favre, pastor of two charismatic churches in Payerne and Neuchâtel, told swissinfo.ch on Sunday.
Favre, who is also a sociologist of religion at Lausanne University, attributes the growth of evangelical churches to people’s loneliness in “our very individualized society” and to “the very modern style of worship.”
The idea of a personal relationship with God, belief that He answers prayers, that He can heal the sick and effect miracles meets a spiritual need, even as the style of worship attracts young people, he said while acknowledging that that people living in insecurity may be more attracted by this notion than those who are comfortably off.
About one-third of the 7.8 million people in Switzerland are registered members of the Swiss Reformed Church.
Migrant populations, such as that of Africans and South Americans, have also contributed to the growth of evangelical churches, said Favre, who served as pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Lausanne for 14 years. They are places that offer essential support as well as the language and music of their home countries.
The pastor, who has documented the rise of the evangelical churches, said evangelical language is evolving and adapting to actual needs, placing less emphasis on sin and repentance than on personal growth and development.
However, he clarified, the evangelicals take a critical look at society and incorporate only what they find the best. A religious movement, he said, needs to be balanced. “If it adapts too much to society it will grow cold, lose its fervor and have difficulty surviving without state support. On the other hand, if the movement is too fundamentalist it will exclude the rest of society and fail to attract.”
Asked if the evangelical churches were the equivalent of populist movements in politics, the pastor said while evangelicals are accused of simplifying their message, they also have intellectuals and highly qualified people, “people who reflect and who see life as being more complex.”
Favre went on to say that the evangelicals in Switzerland are conservative from an individual moral standpoint, but “very progressive on social issues such as ecology, with a simple respect for creation.” Most European evangelicals, he pointed out, were opposed to the George Bush administration in the United States and the war in Iraq.