Churches in Germany in free fall. A decade of Francis failure means Catholic Church is heading the same way as the Protestants.

In 2022, more Protestants and evangelicals declared their resignation than ever before. The church is threatened with rapid decline into irrelevance. What is the reason?

At the Protestant Church Congress, now taking place in Nuremberg, believers with candles stand at a stage barrier and sing.

Around 380,000 Protestants have declared their resignation from their church in 2022. For the first time in German history, the members of the Protestant and Catholic Churches no longer made up the majority of the population in 2022. The churches are threatened with a rapid slide into irrelevance.

Numbers leaving the Church

The reasons for leaving? Various. Often, leaving is not an acute break, but a gradual alienation from the church. But every day more people decide to finally leave the churches.

Of course, the relationship of members to the churches and their faith is deeply personal. Nevertheless, the churches are desperately trying to find out what drives people out of the places of worship and congregations. In doing so, they repeatedly come across uncomfortable answers in studies.

Abuse scandals, for example, have recently played a growing role. In 2021, significantly more Catholics left than Protestants because of this. But here, too, the debate about structures of opportunity made itself felt: about church structures that can promote sexualised violence. Never before have there been so many resignations from the Protestant Church in Germany. A blow in the notch, because in absolute and relative terms, more Protestants than Catholics have been leaving the church for years. In addition, twice as many believers died in 2021 as were added through baptism.

Church tax is a reason for leaving

The vast majority of church members have little direct connection to the church. More than half of those who leave seem to have no specific reason for leaving. On the one hand, the alienation is gradual, yet it is rapid: since 2005, both churches have been losing members at an accelerating rate.

Many, as the Social Science Institute of the EKD found in a large-scale exit study in 2019, simply no longer find it appropriate to pay high church taxes. However, the researchers cannot answer whether this is just the reason or a real reason.

Only a small proportion of those who left are not satisfied with the church's commitment to refugees or are decisively annoyed by its political orientation. Whether left-wing or right-wing, progressive or conservative, a full 53 per cent still feel that the values of the church no longer really correspond to their own.

Much more significant seems to be the increasing irrelevance in a secular society. Those who leave justify their decision with indifference towards the church, with general lack of credibility, or with the fact that they can live their faith without the church.

But even the remaining members can hardly be seen at church services. Only a fraction regularly attends services or is actively involved in the congregation. But at big festivals, weddings, Christmas, funerals, church is important to them.

By 2060, scientists predict that churches will lose another half of their members. The church is becoming increasingly "smaller and humbler", commented Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German Catholic Bishops' Conference. Perhaps it is thus coming closer to its ideal. After all, humility is a core Christian competence.