German churches warned of falling congregations

German churches warned of falling congregations

Congregations at Germany’s two main churches are forecast to halve by 2060, causing severe financial strain, according to a new study by the University of Freiburg.

The reasons given for declining attendances at the Catholic and Protestant churches include adults leaving, fewer baptisms and an ageing population.

The report said demography played a much smaller role than people leaving the church.

“The probability of leaving is so high that this probably explains between half and two-thirds of the loss of members, while demographics account for at most one third to one half,” said lead author Bernd Raffelhüschen. 

Commissioned by the Catholic German Bishops Conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the study predicted the combined membership of the churches would drop from about the current 45 million to 35 million by 2035 and 23 million by 2060.

Currently, around two-thirds of Germany’s 83 million population identify themselves as Christian, including members of the Evangelical, Protestant Free and Orthodox churches.

A third of Germans say they have no religious belief or belong to another religion.

Muslims, largely of Turkish origin, are Germany’s third-largest religious community, with a population of an estimated 5 million and there are around 200,000 Jews in Germany.

Members of church congregations pay up to 9 per cent of their taxable income to the two main German churches, generating around €12 billion in income in 2017.

Rising maintenance costs and salary increases mean the two churches would need €25 billion in the future, the researchers estimated.

Years of low German unemployment and economic growth had boosted church coffers but the tide was about to turn, the researchers warned.

“These changes will happen and it’s good to focus on the questions of tomorrow during the present economically good situation,” said Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, head of the EKD council.

The researchers mentioned several scandals that have hit the churches in recent years, including sexual assault coverups and misuse of finances, as contributing to the disillusionment among the faithful.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German Bishops Conference, said the study was “a call to missionise”. 

Raffelhüschen, an economist, said the churches needed new strategies to retain congregations and attract new worshippers to overcome looming financial shortfalls, rather missing the spiritual aspect of the debate.



Cologne Cathedral in 1900. Churches across Europe will require increasing amounts of investment. Picture credit: Wikimedia 




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