Membership of the Catholic and Protestant churches is set to drop by 22 percent by 2035 and by 49 percent by 2060, the study by Freiburg University found. That would mean that under 23 million members of the main Christian denominations would live in the country in comparison with the 45 million who are alive today.
The authors said that two main factors were causing the drop in the number of Christians in the country. The first was that church members were dying at a considerably higher rate than babies were being baptized.
Secondly, large numbers of people in their twenties and thirties were deciding to leave the church.
The report is sure to make gloomy reading for Germany’s two major churches, which finance themselves through the church tax that their members pay.
But it also came to the conclusion that demography plays 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,” lead author Bernd Raffelhüschen told broadcaster ARD.
Raffelhüschen said that the churches had it within their own power to change attitudes to the church among young members who were considering leaving and, therefore, could guard against a dramatic drop in membership.
The study identified several scandals that have hit the churches in recent years, including sexual assault cover-ups and abuse of finances, as contributing to disillusionment among members.
Bernd Jünemann, finance director of the Catholic church in Berlin, said that the findings of the study came as a surprise to him.
“What surprised us is to what extent we can influence this, so that this development does not have to happen at all,” he said.