How can minority churches such as Protestant survive in a stricly secular state like France?



In the country where I live (Switzerland), the state is not strictly secular, and is supporting some churches. The vast majority of the population is not religious anymore (regardless of whether or not they're believers), and only a small fraction of people attend (and thus make donations) to their church regularly. I do not know the details of their financing but I'm pretty confident the Churches depend largely on state subventions and would have to drastically reduce their offers and activities if the state's financial support were to disappear.

In France however, the world's first country to adopt secularism in 1789, and thus the direct inspiration for many other secular states, the system works as follows : The state does not recognize nor support any religious organisation.

I can imagine that the majority church (in this case, Roman Catholics) still have barely enough believers to survive uniquely based on donations, but how do minority churches, such as Protestants, survive ? Do believers have to give really huge donations in order to not see their Church collapse ?


Posted 2016-11-13T20:08:43.620

Reputation: 6 497

2You might want to compare France with another country that does not provide support for churches, America. – Readin – 2016-11-13T20:49:24.187

"Yes, they do". That answer to your last sub-question addresses the whole question as a whole. Churches are really effective at fundraising, especially in religions where tithes are a thing – user4012 – 2016-11-13T21:36:38.810

@user4012 Then secularism really suck hard. Why would I have to pay, say, $200 to attend church, just because I live in a secular state ? – Bregalad – 2016-11-13T22:07:10.877

7@Bregalad - because you (or someone) pays for everything. TANSTAAFL. – user4012 – 2016-11-13T22:45:45.797

@user4012 If you could explain why/how churches are really effective for fundrising in an answer, it'd be great. – Bregalad – 2016-11-14T11:30:36.513

7@Bregalad just to be clear, churchgoers don't 'pay' to attend church. Anyone can attend for free. Donations are strictly voluntary. You can attend for as long as you want and never give anything. Perhaps you should try going to a local church and asking some of the attendees why they choose to donate? – Readin – 2016-11-14T12:47:10.907

@Readin I know, but that voluntary donation system works in a non-secular state, as the one I'm living in. The church lives on donations (for a small amount) and state support (for the largest ammount). Now turn the state into a secular sate, and see where I'm coming. – Bregalad – 2016-11-14T13:39:11.100

2It is worth commenting that donations to the Church seem to be 66% tax deductible ( which in itself can be viewed as a form of support from the state (including non-believers money). Also, a) the public will be more aware that the church is not publicly funded so likely more inclined and used to donate and b) the church will most probably spend less (I see lots of evangelical churches that just happen to be a rented commercial space). Also, there are the options of foreign donations from churches in more "generous" countries. – SJuan76 – 2016-11-14T13:39:14.127

@Readin - it's more nuanced than that. For example, High Holiday services tend to require a paid ticket in American synagogues, and (guessing) probably account for a decent chunk of budget. – user4012 – 2016-11-14T17:13:07.847

Is this question on topic? It seems to be asking how the financial management of religious organizations. – indigochild – 2016-11-14T21:55:00.970


Here is a graph which show atheism by country, you can check if the fact they is secularism for them correpsond to this : USA is a secular state, yet they have way less atheist. However religion is way more active in USA than in France.

– Walfrat – 2016-11-15T09:50:25.807

1@Bregalad I'm not sure what you mean by "non-secular". The American government does not fund the churches. Churches do get the same tax-break that other non-profits get, but they don't get funding. – Readin – 2016-11-26T19:52:32.960

@user4012 I'm surprised to hear that. Churches I have dealt with have been very careful not to charge for anything. At most they'll have a "suggested donation". For example if the youth hold a fundraising car-wash they will suggest a donation amount, which could be viewed as a price, but they will wash the car whether you pay or not. As I understand it one of the reasons for this is to maintain their tax-exempt status. – Readin – 2016-11-26T19:55:35.013

@Bregalad: Then non-secularism really suck hard. Why would I have to pay, say, $200 for you to attend church, just because I live in a non-secular state ? – Taladris – 2017-02-02T08:34:49.683



This is only a partial answer, and I will try to edit it later on.

First, the effective secularism in France is the 1905 law, not 1789.

Second, the state does support the cults, more or less indirectly :

  • In 1907, a law was passed that gave control of religious buildings to the state : since then, it is local governments (cities mostly), that take care of the buildings built before 1907. The churches and mosques etc. built after that date belong to the cults.
  • In some parts of the country (Alsace, Moselle and some overseas territory), the 1905 law doesn't apply and the cults are financed by the local governments.
  • 66% of the donations can be taken out of taxes, with a limit. This can help a lot of people to give money.
  • Other exceptions apply, that allow the funding of cults.

For example, for the jewish community :

le financement des synagogues est essentiellement privé et assumé par la communauté des fidèles elle-même

The funding for synagogues is essentially private and originate from the believers' community itself

Another fact is that the cults are owners of land in some cases, and that financial products help fund them.

I must admit that I am not myself convinced of what I just found in this quick research, since it was said that for the most part, the cults aren't in financial trouble, but that donations are a limited way of funding… I guess the situation isn't really simple.

Sources :

If you read french, here is a webpage of the french senate describing a report on this issue


Posted 2016-11-13T20:08:43.620

Reputation: 704

1That seems right to me. (I'm French). Cults are poor since the 1905 law. For the most part, Catholic churches in France are owned and maintained by the states, so Catholic only have to pay priests -- and they are not well-paid, and their numbers is diminishing. They do not have much land because everything was confiscated by the states in 1905. (voted+1) – Joël – 2016-11-16T00:57:34.850

4fyi: In English, "cult" has negative connotations – user4012 – 2016-11-27T00:24:49.797