Islam Spreads throughout Germany as Churches Close Their Doors

According to recent polls, around 70 percent of Germans consider themselves to be religious. However, the country’s two major denominations — Protestant and Catholic — are seeing a drop in attendance.

Recent marketing slogans such as “You are the Church” are meant to attract new members into German houses of worship. But fewer and fewer Germans are responding to the calls to join.

The official membership rolls of both of Germany’s major denominations are dropping slowly but surely. The Archbishop of Munich, Reinhard Marx, candidly admits that for years, the number of people leaving the church has exceeded the number of those joining. It’s a problem that can’t be avoided, he says.

In 2006, some 85,000 people left the Catholic Church, while only 15,000 new members joined. The numbers are similar for the Protestants. Indeed, less than two-thirds of all Germans are still members of a Christian religious community. Some 25 million people belong to the Catholic Church, about even with Protestants.

Explosion of Muslims

In contrast, the number of Muslims in the country has grown steadily over the past years, making Islam the third-largest religion in Germany. In the 1960s, there were around 2 million Muslims; today there are more than 3 million. The Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany was formed in 2007, and acts as an advocacy group for Muslims in Germany. It fights for rights such as Islamic religion classes in schools.

Churches are concerned about the fact that shrinking membership means fewer people paying church tax (which is deducted directly from peoples’ paychecks in Germany). The Catholic Church currently receives some 4.2 billion euros ($5.6 billion) per year in church taxes, while the Protestant Church receives around 3.9 billion euros a year.

As a result, churches are closing, and the buildings being rented out or sold. Church buildings and rectories are even going up for sale on the Internet. They are being turned into concert venues, offices or restaurants, among other things.

The Catholic Church in Germany got a burst of new energy in 2005 when a German, Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) was named to succeed the deceased Pope John Paul II. That year, the World Catholic Youth Day took place in Cologne, which boosted the number of young people interested in Catholicism — at least temporarily. However, there are still concerns about long-term drops in church membership.

Grassroots movements

In religion as elsewhere, like seems to stick with like. Every year, some 20,000 to 30,000 people attend either the German Protestant Kirchentag (Protestant Church Day) or the Catholicism Day. These colorful, multicultural festivals take place in alternating years around Pentecost.

The events grew out of grassroots movements and are not run by the churches themselves. They focus on intercultural and inter-religious understanding, and often have a political bent, offering a platform for discussion mixed with music and cultural events.

The rock festival atmosphere is a far cry from the image of staid, old-fashioned church services. The events take an ecumenical standpoint, and try and open direct dialog with smaller churches or with Muslims. Meeting over a film panel discussion or political debate — say on religion and environmentalism — appeals to young people more than attending church services, which many see as an old-fashioned way of practicing religion.

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2 Responses to “Islam Spreads throughout Germany as Churches Close Their Doors”

  1. It would be interesting to see the numbers of actual adult conversion. When a catholic bishop speaks of a certain number of “new members” in the church, he is including baptized children. The same goes for Islam; here too the growth is mainly due to birthrate. While this is a fact found in a couple statistics, I couldn’t find a single one giving explicit numbers for adults that converted by their own choice.

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