Calvary Chapel Nice, France

Continuing the 2005 series of interviews with pastors from various Calvary Chapels around Europe, Calvary News Network has put 10 questions to Pastor Pierre Petrignani of CC Nice. From the exotic Southern France, he explains how he ended up returning from Seattle to serve among his countrymen, how the spiritual conditions are in France, and how CC Nice reaches out to the local community. Pierre Petrignani is one of the speakers at this summer’s Scandinavian CC conference in Malmo.

What is God doing in, through, and around CC Nice these days?

God has been using us to reach out to our neighborhood, including to the French and international students at the nearby University campus, to single moms etc. AWM missionaries have been an integral part of the church for 7 years, and they minister among immigrant children. We just baptized five new converts and are following up with a new believer’s class.

Is there a certain group of people that CC Nice especially has a ministry burden for?

We've always had a heart for young people and students. We've worked with the local Bible Union group for years. We've done evangelism with a Bible stand at the University. We have a Wednesday Bible study with 15 to 30 students depending on the time of year (exams, vacations, etc...). We've also started a coffee-bar on the church premises for friendship evangelism. We try to have monthly events where we can invite non-believers; such as movie nights, concerts, beach picnics...

What are some of the church needs that CC Nice is lifting up to God in prayer right now?

The facility we rent is for sale, and we'd like to be able to purchase it. Our rent could pay back a loan if we could get a bank or some individuals to loan us the money (close to 450,000 Euro). Banks don't easily trust an income based exclusively on tithes and offerings. We'd like to strengthen our coffee-bar ministry and start a school of discipleship, to eventually have a Bible School extension ministry in French. We're praying for translators to work on CC materials. We're praying that more people would get involved in our prayer meetings.

What is the spiritual situation like in Nice and in France right now, as you see it?

There are about 0.6% evangelicals in France – 350,000 out of a population of 60 million people with five million Muslims and 650,000 Jews – but the numbers are growing! The number of churches has doubled in the last thirty years. The evangelical faith is often presented in the media as the religion of black immigrants, and evangelical churches are often considered as cults. A very good article on the subject was recently published by Christianity Today (find it here).

What part of the French culture is the biggest obstacle to overcome when advocating a personal, living relationship with Jesus Christ?

Individualism, hedonism, the formal traditions of Catholicism. The idea that Evolution is a scientifically proven and universally recognized fact. The strong sexually-oriented atmosphere of the media and the culture.

Do you work together with other Calvary Chapels in your region or in Europe in any way?

At this point, there are only two CC churches in France. CC Nice started in 1993 and CC Paris started in 2002 by Mike & Becky Dente who worked in Nice with us for 5 years before feeling called to the capital city of France. We're too far from Paris (900 km) to maintain a very close working relationship with them, but we are in touch by phone and email. For the French administration, they are considered as ministers of CC Nice, working in Paris until they get enough people to form an independent church organization. We keep in touch with other Western Europe CC's by attending conferences together or inviting their pastors to be guest speakers at our church retreats: fellowships like CC Siegen, CC Montebelluna, etc...

What book of the Bible are you teaching through at the moment, and what messages has God seemed to especially personalize for you as a congregation in that process?

We are studying the Gospel of Matthew on Sundays (chapter 24) and just ended our Wednesday night Bible study with the study of 1&2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Timothy and Titus. We've been blessed by the renewed message of God's love and grace and challenged by His expectation of love from us. We want to fall in love again and again with Jesus, we want Him to be the center of our existence...

Pierre and Nancy Petrignani.

How did God call you to be a pastor?

Raised as a Catholic in France, I stopped attending church at the age of 15. I met my future wife Nancy, who is American, in France when I was finishing my engineering studies in Marseilles, worked for three years in Paris and moved to Seattle at the age of 29. Invited to a Christmas service at CC Seattle (Pastor Wayne Taylor), I started attending the church and accepted the Lord at the age of 34. We started being very involved, attending a school of Discipleship for several years in our church (2500 people), serving in many ministries there, leading a home group, an evangelism group, a Bible study at my work, and Nancy was helping in the children's ministry. From that moment on, whenever I was visiting my family in Southern France, I realized that not much was happening there and started thinking that, if we returned, we could help by getting involved in a church as we were in Seattle. To be ready to minister in France, we did a couple semesters at Prairie Bible Institute, I then served as an elder in CC Seattle, and taught in the church school of discipleship.

A free evangelical church in Nice, France, that we had attended during a leave of absence from my work (as a systems engineer at the telephone company, AT&T, then US WEST) asked me to come and serve as pastor while the pastor was on furlough. At the end of our time and with the encouragement of pastor Wayne Taylor who had come to visit with an outreach team, we decided to start a Calvary Chapel ministry (July 1993) in the same town, asking people in the church not to follow us but to keep attending the free evangelical church we had served for nine months.

The Petrignani family. From the left: Sebastien (20), Pierre, Nancy, and Tonio (23)

Have you ever had moments when you thought about giving up the ministry?

Yes and no. There have been some discouraging moments when you wonder whether you're truly called – such as the time when we had to ask a couple living together and refusing to separate not to attend the church and who left with half of our young believers. We went back from 16 to 8 people in the "church". But fortunately we didn't know what to expect and I had burned my bridges (having finally quit my engineering job in Seattle, I couldn't go back to my former life easily!). The Lord was always good to keep us encouraged by conversions and by the support of outreach teams from the States and from other Calvary Chapel churches or Bible schools in Europe. I've always had the conviction of being called. Leaving a good job at 33 with a family of four was definitely not MY idea. The Lord has been very faithful in providing for all my family.

If anyone reading this is praying about going to France as a missionary, what preparatory advice would you give him or her?

First, they should have the conviction that they are called to France. They should serve and get involved in many aspects of the ministry in their home church. They should begin studying the language as soon as possible. They should have experience in witnessing, friendship evangelism. Reading about the French culture is very important. A book we recommend is "French or Foes" by Polly Platt (read more about it here).

* * *

You can read more about Calvary Chapel Nice by visiting the church’s official website.

You can meet Pastor Pierre Petrignani at this summer's Scandinavian Calvary Chapel conference in Malmo, Sweden (August 11-14), where he will be teaching from God's Word (along with Pastor Peter Will from CC Hannover and Pastor Kent Åkerlund from CC Malmo).