Why do people in America leave churches

Church: many withdrawals, importance waning

And again Easter in Corona times. This most important festival of Christianity, on which the houses of God in Germany, as in many countries of the world, were packed in earlier years. And when people came to worship who otherwise only set foot in a church once or twice a year.

Easter in Corona times - that limits the usual celebrations. There are over 14,000 Protestant parishes and almost 10,000 Catholic parishes. In a "normal year" almost every one of them would festively celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter vigil. With an Easter bonfire in front of the house of God and strong singing in a crowded church. Now the fires are forbidden, the pews may only be sparsely occupied. And because of the risk of contamination from aerosols, people have stopped singing for a long time. The exultant joy of this festival is spoken softly in despondent words. On Monday, the head of the Evangelical Church in Germany, the Bavarian state chairman Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, emphasized at a digital press conference that there was "no reason" to doubt the meaning of the services: "The hygiene concepts of the churches have proven themselves."

Osterruhe snubbed churches

But a few hours later, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Prime Ministers of the federal states decided to shut down Germany for six days for Easter. "Easter rest", they announced. And besides, it was said that the churches should refrain from all worship services. Merkel had literally run over the churches. The leaders of the large churches were clearly irritated. "Easter is the most important festival for us, church services are not an accessory," said the chairman of the Catholic German Bishops' Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, on Twitter. And both churches distanced themselves from the government plans.

Only since Merkel rejected her "Easter rest" plan as a "mistake" have the churches been planning real celebrations again wherever possible, and digital offers through streaming.

There is more to the tug-of-war about the Christian character of the Holy Days and Easter days. And it is reinforced by the fact that a Federal Chancellor did not even inform the churches in advance. Sure, the churches are allies in the commitment to an open society and indispensable supporters of many thousands of social institutions, kindergartens, old people's homes, hospitals and counseling facilities. But they are losing social strength.

When the church gradually empties ...

Less than half a church member

In 2019 there were still around 45.75 million Christians in Germany. 22.6 million claimed to be part of the Catholic Church, 20.7 million to one of the churches of the Reformation, and a good two million belong to an Orthodox profession. 45.75 million, that is about 52 percent of the total population. For comparison: in 1991, soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, almost 71 percent belonged to a church in an enlarged Germany. And 40 years ago, in 1980, it was even 85.7 percent in the Federal Republic. Today the proportion is constantly falling. At some point this year or next, the mathematical point would be reached where not even every second German still belongs to a church.

In Germany this is known more precisely than in most other countries. Because politics and churches are here - despite their fundamental separation - in many ways connected and the state has traditionally been interested in strong churches. For over 100 years the churches have been allowed to levy real taxes on their "sheep". And the state collects this fee - for a fee that remains with it. This bureaucratic country knows exactly who belongs to which church or religion and who pays taxes to his church.

The downward trend is actually the result of a natural development. Many of the elders who die are still church-bound. But only a small fraction of those born today are still baptized Christian. But that's not enough to explain the downtrend. There are other factors that count. In times of economic hardship, people leave the institution of the church to save money. Above all, believers turn their backs on their church when they are disappointed in it. When a "bling-bling bishop", as the then Limburg bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst liked to be called, built up millions in 2013 and ruled his district in an authoritarian manner. And especially when sexual violence against minors by churchmen outrages people. Then even very pious people despair.

Abuse - always new reports (like here in the Archdiocese of Cologne) with new findings and details

Abuse shakes church

The abuse. A good ten years ago, this topic entered the German debate with many terrible facets as a result of scandals in church institutions. And it is there to this day. There is multiple abuse in families, in sport, in the area of ​​the Catholic, also the Protestant Church. Affected people from Protestant institutions repeatedly speak of the fact that the Catholic side is further than their own church in coming to terms with and helping those affected.

But the Catholic Church has been practicing for many years to know exactly what people should and should not do when it comes to the subject of sexuality. And for over half a century she has been admonishing in a magisterial manner that even in marriage all sexuality must be open to the creation of human life. In 1968 Rome banned the pill. "The great disobedience has begun", wrote the news magazine "Der Spiegel" afterwards. The pill banned, homosexual love condemned - and then many thousands of minors were victims of sexual violence by consecrated men. This does not correspond to the image that many people have of the church. This church often no longer speaks the language of the people. And the reaction is pure outrage when people have the impression that the church wants to continue to cover up.

For Rome the land of resistance

Detlef Pollack, sociologist of religion

That is why the number of people leaving the church is increasing. In 2019, they were higher nationwide than ever before. Few believe that people who turn away from their church can return. "Anyone who gives up their ecclesiastical ties is very likely to lose their religiosity," said the Münster-based religious sociologist Detlef Pollack, one of the most knowledgeable observers of the topic, in the Catholic "Tagespost".

Because many other countries in Europe do not carefully grasp the question of church membership in the same way or because it is not even possible there to leave the church, the Catholic Church, with its urge for reforms, has for years been in the critical eye of the Roman headquarters, which - like a global corporation - pays attention to the global brand. Oh, Germany - for the Vatican it is the country in which this Reformation broke out a good 500 years ago (behind which today there are up to 400 million people in various churches around the world). Germany - that is also the country in which 150 years ago the so-called Old Catholics split off from the Roman Catholic Church in protest against the further concentration of Roman power. Many people in Rome see it as the land of resistance.

And now Easter with almost empty churches. Several times in the past twelve months the question popped up how God could allow the suffering of many people and the deaths of thousands in the pandemic. But whoever, as a clergyman or cleric, will ask himself this question, often only speaks into the camera of a live stream. Faith and religion, said the sociologist of religion Pollack, thrive on exchange and mutual reinforcement in the community. Many leaders suspect that the churches in Germany will present a completely different picture after the pandemic than before.