German Church membership will be halved by 2060, new study says

Cologne Cathedral Germany Credit namportnawak via Flickr CC BY NC ND 20 CNA Cologne Cathedral. | namportwawak via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

The number of Germans who pay a state-administered "Church tax" to the Catholic Church or the country's largest Protestant group is expected to be halved by 2060, according to researchers at the University of Freiburg.

Researchers say the expected decline can be predicted a dwindling number of baptisms in Germany, the number of Germans who have departed from formal religious enrollment, and a decrease in Germany's overall population, which is expected by 2060 to be reduced by 21 percent.

In total, the number of Germans who pay the country's "Church tax" is expected to decrease by 49%. German law collects an income tax on the country's Church members, which it distributes to Church organizations, among them the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church of Germany, a federation of Protestant groups, mostly Lutheran, which constitutes the largest Protestant group in Germany.

Taxpayers have the option of opting out of tax payment by notifying state authorities that they have left the religious group in which they are enrolled. In 2017, the Church tax generated $13.5 billion for religious groups in the country. The predicted decline in membership would lead to major budget shortfalls for the Catholic Church in Germany.

Economist Bernd Raffelhüschen, who led the project, told the protestant church portal that there is still potential for change, and the prediction should not be read as a "doomsday prophecy.

Instead, Raffelhüschen said, it presents a "generational task," since for the next two decades Catholic and Protestant Churches will still have "resources for transformation."

Likewise, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops' conference, has said the report represents a "call to evangelize."

In March, Eichstätter Bishop Gregory Maria Hanke had called the German bishops to discuss the topic.

"We, the German bishops, urgently need to consider how church taxation can and should continue - I miss this discussion because the Catholic as well as the Protestant Church faces a large number of church departures each year," Hanke said.

"At the latest in ten years, the church tax receipts will collapse."

A better way for the future is for the Church to rely on voluntary contributions, Hanke suggested.

After the study's report last week, Cardinal Marx encouraged German Catholics, "in view of this project, do not panic."

"The church is always about sharing the gospel, even under changed circumstances, and for me the study is also a call for mission."

A version of this story was originally published on CNA Deutsch, CNA's German-language sister agency. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.