The average French member is a first generation convert to the Church from Catholicism. However, in the mix of French members, one sees everything ranging from the stalwart dyed-in-the-wool members who are doctrinally sound and firm in their testimony to the weak and less active.
Historically, the French have a strong mistrust of religion, stemming from the time of the French Revolution when the clergy sided with the royalty. This mistrust was augmented in the 1970s by sensationalistic media, who painted all groups that weren't Catholic, French Protestant, Jewish, or Moslem, as sectes which
corresponds closely to the English term "cults".
Today, the repercussions of this are felt in the government, where a formal inquiry was conducted in 1995 by the Assemblée Nationale into the characterization, nature, and activity of the sectes. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was investigated and officially removed from the final list of sectes in the report (i.e. the government recognized that it was not a secte); however, that doesn't mean that there isn't still some degree of mistrust.
Thus, French members of the Church of Jesus Christ take great risks socially to break themselves from their Catholic backgrounds (and quite often thereby their families) to follow the beckoning of the Spirit to a marginalized religion. They are truly pioneers in the Church. Missionaries should consider this, when confronted with situations where the local membership does not necessarily fit the American, specifically Wasatch, perspective of the Church.
Indeed, some weaknesses in the Church in France are a direct result of the missionaries' own actions. Some missionaries exaggerate the difficulty of teaching the French. They then fall in the trap of concentrating on "easy" baptisms among people who may not have been ready for baptism, many of whom then fall inactive. It should always be remembered that missionary work is not a question of numbers: baptizing the
unready does them little good.
There are a number of ways that missionaries can support the French membership:
Sustain the local leadership, even if their approach to the work is different from yours. They know their flock and they know their neighbors far more than you can ever hope to. Don't support the backbiting that exists in some units among some members by agreeing with them - you won't help their spiritual progress and moreover, it's outside your purview.
Don't be impatient if the local members don't seem to be immediately enthusiastic about your latest program or idea—remember that they live there, whereas you'll be gone in a few months, so they'll feel the repercussions of
whatever you choose to do. If you gain the confidence of the members, they will be more likely to sustain you in your efforts.
Do service, and preferably not just English class or basketball. Those are good service, but they smack of "the American church". The best service consists of service the French need—service that makes it clear that you are there to establish the stakes of Zion in France.
Always be an example. Many French member children look up to you for how they should act. If you goof off at church or don't take missionary work seriously enough, they'll have reason to question why they should go on missions, and
their parents will have no reason to trust you.
Serve where you're called. If you are called to serve among foreigners, then serve those people and don't complain. Contrary to unfounded rumors among some missionaries, foreign members can be strong and be joy a to work with.
Finally, learn to love the French and their language. It's not the easiest language in the world, but every language has its own quirks and difficulties over which learners struggle. Try hard to pronounce it well and to listen really well. It can be difficult, but you learn to develop empathy by listening to what people say. And you learn to avoid the pat answers and monologues which show that you aren't listening to them and that you aren't listening to the Spirit either.
On a personal note, I love the French people. Despite being francophobe before my
mission, I learned not merely to appreciate the French culture or their way-of-thinking, but to love the French for, because, and in spite of themselves. It took me four months in field to realize that I had been called to serve them
and not someone else. You can save yourself a lot of grief, by recognizing that up front, and then by serving enthusiastically.