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.
“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.
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.
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