Membership in the Catholic and Protestant Churches of Germany are falling and the trend tends to continue.
Germany's Catholic Church lost 216,078 members and Protestant churches lost some 220,000 in 2018, according to data published on Friday by the German Bishops' Conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).
The losses have hit hard the two main Churches of the country, as members pay up to 9% of their taxable income as church taxes.
In total, around 23 million German citizens are still members of the Catholic Church and 21.14 million are members of the Protestant churches. The two groups account for 53.2% of the country's total population of over 83 million.
Hans Langendörfer, secretary of the German Bishops' Conference, described Friday's figures as a "worrying" statistic.
"Every departure hurts," said Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, president of the EKD. "Since people today, unlike in the past, decide out of freedom whether they want to belong to the Church, it is important for us today to make even clearer why the Christian message is such a strong basis for life."
Membership renunciation a free choice
Church membership can officially be renounced by making a declaration in person at a local government agency, sometimes a district court. There is no need to provide any reason for wanting to leave.
Unless they renounce their membership with an official declaration, members of the Catholic and Protestant Churches pay up to 9% of their taxable income as church tax, generating billions of Euros in income for both communities. The money is automatically deducted, just like payroll taxes or social security.
Decline tends to continue
A study published by the University of Freiburg in May concluded that the number of people belonging to Germany's two Churches will drop by half by 2060.
The main reasons for declining membership in the two Churches include adults leaving the church, fewer baptisms and an ageing population, the researchers said.
The study predicted that 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.