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German congregations shrink as church goers die out

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German congregations shrink as church goers die out
St. Peter Church in Worms. Photo: DPA
15:19 CEST+02:00
Germany’s two major Christian churches lost hundreds of thousands of members last year in an ongoing long term decline largely to demographic change.

The number of German church-goers dropped by 660,000 last year, according to figures released on Friday.

The biggest hit was suffered by protestant congregations, which shed 390,000 members to 21.5 million in 2017, a decrease of 1.8 percent said the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).

Meanwhile the number of Catholic church-goers fell by 270,000 to 23.3 million people, according to the German Bishops' Conference (DBK).

Overall, 54 percent of the German population now belongs to one of the two churches, a drop of ten percent since 2005.

The number of church withdrawals increased slightly for both denominations. Around 200,000 people actively left the Protestant Church in 2017, compared with 190,000 the year before. For Catholics, the number of people leaving stood at 167,000 in 2017 and 162,000 in 2016.

SEE ALSO: Six things to know about Catholicism in Germany

Part of the drop is simply due to demographic decline in Germany: last year alone, 350,000 members of the Protestant Church passed away. And although new members partly made up for that shortfall, fewer children are being brought into congregations by their parents.

"The decline in membership is less demographic than due to the fact that the tradition of faith in families, communities and schools does not function sufficiently," journalist Andreas Püttmann, author of "Society without God" told German newswire DPA.

From the point of view of religious sociologists, this is not due to the church itself, but rather due to developments in society such as increased prosperity, educational opportunities, and expansion of education.

“Self identification as being a religious person has been on the decline for decades,” says Püttmann. “Now only one in three people say that they are interested in religious topics.”

Just one in every ten church members actually attends services, says Püttmann. “In this sense, the question is not why every year ‘so many’ people leave the church, but why there are so few.”

Many people remain a member of a church in order to get married in one, even if they do not attend regular services. At the same time, people in Germany also leave the church in order to avoid paying a church tax for members.

According to a survey conducted in 2017 by the website Kirchenaustritt (church exit), about 45 percent of people who officially left the church did so to avoid paying the church tax, which also applies to members of Jewish congregations as well.

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