Germans go to church

The frequency of church attendance / attendance at church services is one of the core elements of "church life" in which the official statistics of the two large churches consistently show a decline. The time series of both churches document the steadily downward trend over the decades. There are also empirical surveys on this question, with a wide range of other characteristics with which one can both check and supplement church statistics.

For the general population survey of the social sciences (ALLBUS), the frequency of church attendance is a central indicator for the intensity of church life and church conditions, so that it has been asked about in all ALLBUS years since 1980, i.e. in twenty surveys.

The church's own statistics of the number of church service visitors are based on the average of the number of participants in the church services on Sunday Invokavit (in February) including children's services (Protestant) or the average of the second Sunday of Lent (in February) and the second Sunday in November (Catholic) - so 'normal' Sundays. In the EKD there are only 3.5 percent of church members (for 2014) (with a range of 2.3 to 7.5 percent in the regional churches), in the Catholic dioceses there are a total of 10.9 percent of church members ( with a range from 8.4 to 21.1 in the dioceses).

In a first ALLBUS evaluation - for society as a whole - the already mentioned steady decline in the frequency of church attendance is shown. This general trend becomes a little clearer in 1991 than is asked in the ALLBUS for all of Germany. However, the changes begin as early as 1988. The decline is most evident in the proportion of people attending church “once a week”, which has fallen from 15.7 percent to 4.7 percent.

This trend includes, inter alia. the resignations from the church and the secularization of society.

In order to illustrate this trend, the 6-part specification of the frequency information was summarized in a first step in three groups, then in two groups. The first group includes all people who work at least once a month, i. H. Go to church “regularly”. Within the summary in two groups, as it was also recently carried out by the PEW research center in the study “Being a Christian in Western Europe”, this first group is called “practicing Christians”. Their share decreases in society as a whole from 29.6 percent (in 1980) to 13.4 percent (in 2016). In other words: less than every seventh German is a “practicing Christian”.

Since going to church is a church / religious phenomenon, the reduction in the proportion of church attendants also reflects the reduction in the number of church members.

In a second step, therefore, only the church members of the EKD regional churches and the Roman Catholic dioceses should be considered. (The Christian free churches and other Christian religious communities are statistically only marginal and of the non-denominational - in 2016 - only 1.5 percent "regularly" go to church.)

Church members

Within the two large churches, the proportion of “practicing Christians” among church members decreased from 31.2 percent (1982) to 18.0 percent (in 2016).

The church affiliation, which is also expressed in the frequency of church attendance, is - as already pointed out at the beginning - stronger among the Roman Catholics than among the EKD Evangelicals. However, the developments between tradition and reduction are clearly different.

The EKD Evangelicals are traditionally not big churchgoers - each theologically has his own theological relationship to God - and so the proportion of "practicing Christians" among the EKD Evangelicals has only decreased from 16.7 (in 1982) to 12.2 percent (in 2016). In other words, at a low level, this proportion falls by around a third between 1982 and 2016.

Within the Roman Catholics, however, around half (46.7 percent) of the church members regularly went to their church as “practicing Christians” in 1982. In 2016, only a quarter (24.0 percent) of the Roman Catholics were left. In this respect, the proportion of “practicing Christians” among Roman Catholics in Germany has roughly halved since 1982.

Have the downward trend 'calmed down'? No. A look at the age distribution of the “practicing Christians” shows the imbalance and aging of this group. While among the EKD Evangelicals the differences between the younger and the older - on a flat level - are small (7 percent versus 18 percent), the differences among the "practicing Christians" are considerable among the Roman Catholics (9 percent among the 18-29 -Year-olds and increasing to 51 percent for those aged 75 and over).

While the age differences are rather moderate among the EKD Evangelicals, which means that the development will not make any major leaps, greater changes are to be expected among the Roman Catholics when the (2012) over-60-year-olds have died.

Assuming that church members will not go to church significantly more often as they get older, it makes sense to only look at the youngest age group of 18-29 year olds to see how their frequency of church attendance has developed as a time series.

The proportions are not in a constant change over the years, but the overall tendency is that the proportion of "practicing Christians" with regular attendance at church services will continue to decrease. Weakly pronounced among the EKD Evangelicals, much more pronounced among the Roman Catholics.

East West

Will this trend be reinforced by the Christian church members in the eastern federal states? Overall: no, on the contrary. Hardly any statement can be made for the Roman Catholics, as their number in the eastern federal states is too small to be able to provide reliable information. Which means that their share is so small that it hardly has any influence.

In contrast, the proportion of “practicing Christians” among the EKD Evangelicals in the eastern federal states rose from 11.3 to 15.7 percent between 1992 and 2016. This could indicate that the distanced ones have left and the number of regular churchgoers has remained stable, so that their share is rising slightly.

Church socialization

Are there any particular factors influencing the decline in “practicing Christians”? Yes. With regard to life experience, how often you yourself as a child, i. H. when he was 11 or 12 years old, went to church, that is, he “learned” the church and its rituals, it is evident for both churches that this type of “church socialization” has diminished more and more.

Among the Roman Catholics in the oldest age group, 98.4 percent, i.e. almost all, regularly attended church, with a majority that went to church not just once but several times a week. In the youngest age group, only 63 percent went to church regularly as children, with an emphasis on “once a week” and “one to three times a month”.

In the case of the EKD Evangelicals, this tendency is parallel at a lower level. The 'turnaround' is particularly clear in the fact that the 45-year-olds and older (in 2012), i.e. those born before 1967, were still mostly “practicing Christians” as children, but then among the younger ones, those born in 1968 and afterwards who are "non-practicing" in a clear majority.

Such a reversal does not take place among the Roman Catholics, but in the age groups the proportions change parallel to the EKD Evangelicals, albeit at a much higher level. While in the older age group 9 out of 10 went to church regularly as children, in the youngest age group only 6 out of 10 have experienced and learned this church socialization.

Non-Christian / Muslims

In the last three ALLBUS surveys (2012, 2014, 2016), members of non-Christian religious communities were also asked about their practice of going to church. Since the number of respondents is only small (129, 118, 115), only indications can be formulated.

Of these non-Christian respondents, around 90 percent are Muslim. In this respect, the findings are primarily for Muslims.

If you calculate the mean value from the three available surveys, it is one third (33.5 percent) who practice their faith and correspondingly two thirds (66.5 percent) who do not go to their place of worship regularly, i.e. do not practice their religion .


Both the findings for the two large Christian churches, but also for the Muslims, indicate that there is a large discrepancy between the information on the number of members of religious communities and the information on how many of them actually practice their religion.

The claim to interpretation and participation of religious communities and religious associations is thus contradicted by the fact that the nominal number of their members does not form a basis for this.

Converted into figures it means that (2016) of the 23,580,000 Roman Catholics only 24 percent = 5.7 million are to be regarded as practicing Christians, of the 21,930,000 EKD Evangelicals only 12.2 percent = 2.7 million and of the approximately 4.6 million Muslims only 33.5 percent = 1.5 million can be counted as actually practicing. That adds up to 9.9 instead of the nominal 50.1 million, i.e. around 10 million practicing religious people. This corresponds (2016) to a share of the population in Germany of around 12 percent.


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