‘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

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German art show slammed over anti-Semitic images

Jewish leaders and Israel's embassy to Germany have voiced "disgust" over anti-Semitic images on display at Documenta, one of the world's biggest art fairs.

German art show slammed over anti-Semitic images

Documenta had been clouded in controversy for months over its inclusion of a Palestinian artists’ group strongly critical of the Israeli occupation.

On Monday – two days after the show opened to the public – one of the works on display by Indonesian art group Taring Padi also came under fire over depictions that both the German government and Jewish groups say went too far.

On the offending mural is the depiction of a pig wearing a helmet blazoned “Mossad”.

On the same work, a man is depicted with sidelocks often associated with Orthodox Jews, fangs and bloodshot eyes, and wearing a black hat with the SS-insignia.

“We are disgusted by the anti-Semitic elements publicly displayed at the Documenta 15 exhibition,” said Israel’s embassy in a statement.

“Elements being portrayed in certain exhibits are reminiscent of propaganda used by Goebbels and his goons during darker times in German history,” it added.

“All red lines have not only been crossed, they have been shattered.”

READ ALSO: Top German art show starts amid anti-Semitism row

Josef Schuster, of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, noted that “artistic freedom ends where xenophobia begins”.

Culture Minister Claudia Roth also said this is where “artistic freedom finds its limits”, as she urged the show’s curators to “draw the necessary

The president of the German-Israel Society, Volker Beck, told Bild daily that he was filing a case with prosecutors over the picture.

Documenta later said it and the Indonesian collective had decided to cover up the work and install an explanation next to it.

No Israeli Jewish artist

Documenta, held in the German city of Kassel, includes the works of more than 1,500 participants.

For the first time since its launch in 1955, the show is being curated by a collective, Indonesia’s Ruangrupa.

But even in the run-up to the show’s opening this weekend, the group has come under fire for including the collective called The Question of Funding over its links to the BDS boycott Israel movement.

BDS was branded anti-Semitic by the German parliament in 2019 and barred from receiving federal funds. Around half of Documenta’s 42-million-euro budget comes from public funds.

Opening the exhibition this weekend, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he had considered skipping the event.

“While some criticism is justified of Israeli policies, such as on settlement building”, the recognition of the Israeli state is “the basis and prerequisite of the debate” in Germany.

He called it disturbing that some from outside Europe or North America had refused to take part in cultural events in which Jewish Israelis are participating.

It was striking that no Jewish artist from Israel was represented at this edition of Documenta, he noted.

By Hui Min NEO