The number of members belonging to Germany’s two main churches will drop by half by 2060, putting severe financial strain on the religious institutions, according to a study published Thursday.
The main reasons for declining membership in the German Catholic and Protestant churches include adults leaving the church, fewer baptisms and an aging population, researchers at the University of Freiburg said.
Read more: The main differences between Catholics and Protestants
The study, which was commissioned by the Catholic German Bishops Conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), predicted the combined membership in the two churches will drop from about 45 million now to 34.8 million by 2035 and 22.7 million by 2060.
Impending budget holes
Members of the Catholic and Protestant churches pay up to 9% of their taxable income to the church, generating around €12 billion ($13.5 billion) in income in 2017.
Read more: 6 facts about Catholic and Protestant influence in Germany
The income is predicted to remain the same in 2060, but with inflation, rising maintenance costs and salary increases the two churches will need €25 billion, according to the study.
The projected budget shortfall is a wakeup call for the churches after years of low unemployment and economic growth boosted their coffers.
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“These changes will happen and it’s good to focus on the questions of tomorrow during the present economically good situation,” said Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, head of the EKD Council.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German Bishops Conference, views the study as “a call to missionize.”
The head of the study, economist Bernd Raffelhüschen, said the churches would have to develop new strategies to retain members and grow in order to overcome looming financial shortfalls.
It’s not that easy to capture the twin spires of this symbol of Cologne in one picture. At a height of 150 meters, Cologne Cathedral is the world’s third-tallest church. It took more than 500 years to build, but it was worth it. This magnificent Gothic structure is one of the most popular sights in Germany.
A cupola that weighs tons but still seems to float: the Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, in Dresden was rebuilt with donations from around the world after it was destroyed in World War II. Just as it did when it was first opened in 1743, it is once again part of the skyline of the Baroque city on the River Elbe.
The distinctive steeple with the copper top has pointed mariners the way up the Elbe to Hamburg since the 17th century. St. Michael’s Church, which the locals simply call “Michel,” is considered the most beautiful Baroque church in northern Germany.
Small city, big church! At a height of 161.53 meters, Ulm Minster’s tower is the tallest in the world. Visitors have to be in good shape to climb the 768 steps to the observation platform. They’ll be rewarded with a view that, in good weather, reaches all the way to the Alps.
The old church tower is a reminder of the destruction in World War II, the new tower a reminder of the exertions of rebuilding. “Lipstick and powder compact” – that’s the nickname Berliners gave the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church when it was re-consecrated in 1961. It’s now one of the landmarks in the western part of central Berlin.
Charlemagne laid the foundation stone for the cathedral in 800 AD and made it the heart of his empire. As the place where German kings were once crowned, it is one of the most important churches in the Western world. In 1978, Aachen Cathedral was the first building in Germany to be made a UNESCO World Heritage site.
And this is the most recent German addition: in 2018, Naumburg Cathedral became the 43rd cultural landmark to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The lifelike sandstone sculptures by an unknown master are among the highlights of this Romanesque-Gothic cathedral.
Munich’s Frauenkirche, the Cathedral of Our Blessed Lady, stands in the heart of the Bavarian city and can be seen from far away. No neighboring building is allowed to be more than 100 meters in height, so that Munich’s skyline remains intact. The church’s distinctive towers with their bulbous domes are modeled on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
Palm-topped columns adorn the interior of St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig, but there is also a column in front of it, to commemorate the peaceful revolution in autumn 1989. At the time, the Nikolaikirche was the starting point for the Leipzig Monday demonstrations that heralded the end of the GDR and the division of Germany.
Hildesheim in Lower Saxony is home to some 40 churches. The Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary is 1,200 years old and a jewel of Romanesque architecture. What is known as the “Thousand-Year Rose” grows in the courtyard of its cloisters. Researchers now think it may be a mere 700 years old, but with dimensions like these, who would bother to be so petty?
A Baroque gem on the shores of Lake Constance: the exterior of the church is fairly simple, but inside, its full splendor is revealed, with countless sculpted figures of angels, ceiling frescoes and opulent ornamentation. Incidentally, the tower clock dates from 1750 and is the oldest working clock in Germany.
To the left, St. Mary’s Cathedral and to the right, the Church of St. Severus: this imposing ensemble rises over Erfurt’s Old Town. Perhaps the residents of Erfurt were especially devout, or had too much money. In any case, the result is impressive: two examples of the finest Gothic architecture right next to each other.
cw/sms (AP, dpa, epd)