‘Historic break’: Church-goers now a minority in Germany

According to projections by experts, for the first time in centuries, more than 50 percent of the German population no longer belong to a church.

Inside the St. Joseph Catholic Church during the sending out service of the 2020 Peace Light.
Inside the St. Joseph Catholic Church during the sending out service of the 2020 Peace Light. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Peter Gercke

For hundreds of years, the majority of people in Germany belonged to one of the two largest churches and were either Roman Catholic or Protestant.

But the latest forecasts from the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and the Research Group World Views in Germany (fowid), show that less than half of the German population is now a member of either of the two major churches.

READ ALSO: Six things to know about Catholicism in Germany

“It’s a historic break, since, taken as a whole, it’s the first time in centuries that it’s no longer ‘normal’ to be a church member in Germany,” says social scientist Carsten Frerk of the Fowid research group.

A downward trend

“The downward trend has been going on for quite some time,” Frerk said. “But it has accelerated more in the past six years than previously thought.”

Thirty years ago, around 70 percent of Germans were still members of either the Roman Catholic Church or the EKD (Evangelical Church in Germany), while 50 years ago, the number of church-goers was more than 90 percent in West Germany.

The churches have also predicted that by 2060 only around 30 percent of the population will still be Catholic or Protestant.

Though some of the decline can be accounted for by the aging population of church members, motives for leaving the church range from saving taxes to protesting against the church and its handling of historical abuse cases.

READ ALSO: Crossed wires: why church tax is causing extra stress for expat tax payers

Robert Stephanus, chairman of the interdenominational association REMID (Religious Studies Media and Information Service) said that there are also major regional differences in relation to church membership.

The situation is very different in Bavaria than in the former GDR, he said, where the membership of the Protestant church fell from almost 15 million to 4 million between 1950 and 1989, while the number of Catholics fell by half to around a million.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: How life in Germany has changed since reunification

Other religions

Nevertheless, the majority of the population in Germany is still officially Christian because, in addition to members of the two large churches, there are still a few million other Christians, who are, for example, free church members and Orthodox Christians (such as Greek, Bulgarian, Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Romanian or Georgian Orthodox).

More than 40 percent of the population is now non-denominational, around four percent are counted as denominational Muslims, and the rest are distributed among other religions, including Jews.


church member = (das) Kirchenmitglied

church tax = (die) Kirchensteuer

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Cologne’s mega mosque to start calling Muslims to prayer

Germany's largest mosque will for the first time broadcast the call to prayer on Friday after city authorities in Cologne gave the go-ahead for a pilot project, under strict limits.

Cologne's mega mosque to start calling Muslims to prayer

Cologne’s Central Mosque, an imposing building in the western city’s Ehrenfeld district, will be allowed to send out a single call to prayer over loudspeakers for up to five minutes on Fridays, between noon and 3:00 pm. The volume must not exceed 60 decibels.

The agreement, part of a two-year pilot project, was to be formally be signed by Cologne officials on Thursday.

Mosques in several cities in Germany have long been authorised to broadcast the call to prayer, but Cologne city only approved it from last October.

In majority-Muslim countries, the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer five times a day.

“We’re very happy,” Abdurrahman Atasoy, general secretary of the Turkish-Islamic Ditib organisation which runs the mosque, told local media. “The public call to prayer is a sign that Muslims are at home here.”

READ ALSO: Berlin mosque flies rainbow flag for pride month

Cologne mayor Henriette Reker said allowing the call to prayer was “a sign of respect” for the city’s many Muslims.

But the project has not been without controversy, particularly because of the involvement of Ditib, which has close ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and manages more than 900 mosques in Germany.

Critics have accused the organisation of spying on Turkish dissidents living in Germany.

Erdogan himself travelled to Cologne in 2018 to inaugurate the Central Mosque, sparking rival rallies by thousands of pro- and anti-government demonstrators.

The Central Mosque, a massive glass and concrete structure designed as a flower bud flanked by two minarets, has room for 1,200 worshippers.

Germany is home to more than five million Muslims, accounting for around six percent of the population.

The city of Cologne, famed for its towering Dom Cathedral, counts more than 100,000 Muslim residents.