Decline of Christianity

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The decline of Christianity is an ongoing trend in Europe.[1] Developed countries and denominations in the post-World War II era have shifted towards post-Christian, secular, globalized, multicultural and multifaith societies. Infant baptism has declined in many nations, and thousands of churches have closed or merged due to lack of attendees. Despite the decline, Christianity remains the dominant religion in the Western world, where 70% of the population is nominally Christian.[2]


Scholars have proposed that Church institutions decline in power and prominence in most industrialized societies, except in cases in which religion serves some function in society beyond merely regulating the relationship between individuals and God.[3]

Christianity is still the largest religion in Western Europe, according to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, where 71% of Western Europeans identified themselves as Christian.[4] According to the same study, 83% of those who were raised as Christians still identified themselves as such.[5] In contrast to Western Europe, the Central and Eastern European countries have not experienced a decline in the percentage of Christians, as the proportion of Christians in these countries has been mostly stable or even increasing in the post-communist era.[6]

A 2015 analysis of the European Values Study in the Handbook of Children and Youth Studies identified a "dramatic decline" in religious affiliation across Europe from 1981 to 2008, with the exception of Eastern Europe where religious affiliation has increased.[7] However, according to an analysis by the European Values Study, in most European countries in 2008, the majority of young respondents identified themselves as Christians.[8] In 2017, a report released by St. Mary's University in Twickenham, London stated that Christianity was declining in Europe. The report's author concluded that Christianity "as a norm" was gone for at least the foreseeable future. According to the report, 91% of people in the Czech Republic between the ages of 16 to 29 have not declared a religious affiliation, and in the United Kingdom, only 7% identify as Anglican (compared to 6% who identify as Muslim). In at least 12 out of the 29 European countries surveyed by the researchers on a sample of 629, the majority of young adults reported that they were not religious.[9][10]


Adherence to established forms of church-related worship is in rapid decline in Spain and Italy. Church authority on social, moral and ethical issues is not as strong as it has been in the past.[3] In 2017, the PBS News Hour reported that Seville's historic cloistered convents were suffering from Christianity's decline in Spain. Despite the decline of daily attendance and the church's authority, Catholicism remains the dominant religion in Spain and Italy. According to the Spanish Center for Sociological Research, 68% of Spaniards self-identify as Catholic in 2019,[11] and according to Pew Research Center, 83.3% of Italy's residents are Christians.[12]

By country[edit]


In Quebec, since the Quiet Revolution, 547 churches have been closed or converted for non-worship based uses. In the 1950s, 95% of Quebec's population went to mass; in the present day, that number is closer to 5%.[13] About 562 churches in Quebec are changing, or one in five.[14] Despite the decline in church attendance, Christianity remains the dominant religion in Quebec, where 82.2% of people are Christians.[15]


An Irish priest has said that the church's authority was most likely undermined by the papal encyclical, called Humanae Vitae, that established the Church's opposition to contraception. Fr. Kevin Hegarty has reported that in the diocese of Killala there is only one priest under the age of 40. They haven't had a student for the priesthood since 2013 and have ordained only two priests over the last 17 years. He expects this decline to continue unless the Church alters its positions on female ordination, contraception and sexuality.[16] Despite the decline in daily attendance and the church's authority, Christianity remains the dominant religion in the Republic of Ireland. In the 2016 census, 85.1% of the population identified as Christian.[17]


Dutch secularization and the decline in religiosity started around 1880 and first became broader and noticeable after 1960 in the Protestant rural areas of Friesland and Groningen. Then, it spread to Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the other large cities in the west. In the 1970s, the Catholic southern areas finally started to show religious declines. A countervailing trend is produced by a religious revival in the Protestant Bible Belt and the growth of Muslims and Hindu communities resulting from immigration and high birth rates.[18][19]

After the Second World War, the major religions began to decline among the Dutch, while a new religion, Islam, began to increase in numbers. During the 1960s and 1970s, pillarisation began to weaken and the population became less religious. In 1971, 39% of the Dutch population were members of the Roman Catholic Church; by 2014, their share of the population had dropped to 23.3% (church-reported KASKI data), or to 23.7% (large sample survey by Statistics Netherlands in 2015). The proportion of adherents of Protestantism declined in the same period from 31% to 15.5%.[20] A significant percentage of the population adheres to other Protestant churches and the Old Catholic Church.[21] With only 49.9% of the Dutch currently (2015) adhering to a religion, the Netherlands is one of the least religious countries of the European Union, after the Czech Republic and Estonia. During the 1960s till 1980s, religion lost its influence on Dutch politics and, as a result in the 1980s and 1990s, the Dutch policy on women's rights, abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality and prostitution became very liberal. As a result of the declining religious adherence, the two major strands of Calvinism, the Dutch Reformed Church and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, together with a small Lutheran group, began to cooperate--first as the Samen op weg Kerken ("Together on the road churches") and since 2004 as the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, a united Protestant church.

In 2015, Statistics Netherlands, the Dutch government institute that gathers statistical information about the Netherlands, found that 50.1% of the adult population declared to be non-religious. Christians comprised 43.8% of the total population and were divided between Catholics, at 23.7%; members of the Protestant Church of the Netherlands, at 15.5%; and members of other Christian denominations, at 4.6%. Islam comprised 4.9% of the total population, Hinduism 0.6%, Buddhism 0.4% and Judaism 0.1%.[22][23]

During the same period, Islam increased from nearly 0% to 5%. The main Islamic immigrants came from Surinam and Indonesia, as a result of decolonization; Turkey, and Morocco, as migrant workers; and Iraq, Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Afghanistan as refugees. In the early 21st century, religious tensions between native Dutch people and migrant Muslims was increasing. After the rise of politician Pim Fortuyn, who sought to defend the Dutch liberal culture against what he saw as a "backwards religion",[24] stricter immigration laws were enacted. Religious tensions increased after the murder of Pim Fortuyn in 2002, as well as the 2004 assassination of Theo van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri, a conservative Muslim.

In December 2014, for the first time, there are more atheists (25%) than theists (17%) in the Netherlands. The majority of the Dutch population is agnostic (31%) or spiritual but not religious (27%).

In 2015, 63% of Dutch people think that religion does more harm than good. This is according to a study on religion and spirituality conducted by research firm Ipsos on behalf of the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw.[25] Not all respondents agreed with the degree of harm that religion does. Most respondents (26%) agreed "a little", 19% of respondents "agreed" with the statement, and another 18% "agreed completely". Atheists see the most harm in religion; of this group, 88% agreed that the balance is unfavorable for religion. The study showed that the more faithful someone is, the less that person is convinced that religion produces little good. Of the faithful, only 21% believe that religion has a more damaging than beneficial effect.

A quarter of the population thinks that morality is threatened if no one believes in God, down from 40% in 2006. The number of people reporting that they never pray rose from 36% in 2006 to 53% in 2016.

United Kingdom[edit]

Attendance at Anglican churches had started to decline by the Edwardian era. Though missions to converts had increased relative to the Victorian age, these efforts were not as successful as had been hoped. During the early 20th century, membership in mainstream churches and attendance at Sunday schools declined, though scholars note that compiling and explaining the significance of these figures is complex. However, in the years following Queen Victoria's death, a pattern emerged that suggested long-term decline, though this wasn't realized until after the First World War.[26]

The UK experienced a decline in infant baptisms after World War II. In 2014, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said that the UK had become a "post-Christian country." That same year, only 4.3% of the population participated in a Church of England Christmas service.[27] Despite the decline, according to the 2011 Census, Christianity is the majority religion, and around 60% of all respondents indicated that they were Christians.[28]

United States[edit]

Christianity is the largest religion in the United States, with the various Protestant Churches having the most adherents. In 2016, Christians represented 73.7% of the total population.[29] Nationwide Catholic membership has increased between 2000 and 2017, but the number of Churches has declined by nearly 11%. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has lost about 30% of its congregation and closed down 12.5% of its churches. The United Methodist church has lost 16.7% of its congregation and 10.2% of its churches. The Presbyterian Church has had the sharpest decline in church membership—between 2000 and 2015 they lost over 40% of their congregation and 15.4% of their churches.[30] Infant baptism has also decreased; nationwide, Catholic baptisms are down by nearly 34%, and ELCA baptisms by over 40%.[30]

Moderate and liberal denominations in the United States have been closing down churches at a rate three or four times greater than the number of new churches being consecrated.[31]

According to The Christian Century, a 1% rate of annual closures is quite low relative to other types of institutions. Dave Olson, who headed church planting efforts for the Evangelical Covenant Church in 2008, has said that of the approximately 3,700 churches that close each year, up to half are unsuccessful new churches.[32]

In 2006, the 119-year-old First Lutheran Church of Los Angeles closed down. In August 2007, Rogers Heights Christian Church, which had a peak membership of 600, closed in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Kinderhook Methodist Church, located near the Mississippi River in a rural part of Illinois, was closed in 2008 after Easter Sunday. An Episcopal Church in Cincinnati was closed.[32]

In 2018, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that churches in Minnesota were being closed due to dwindling attendance. Mainline protestant churches have seen the sharpest declines in their congregations. The Catholic Church has closed 81 churches between 2000 and 2017; the Archdiocese closed 21 churches in 2010 and has had to merge dozens more. In roughly the same time frame, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Minnesota has lost 200,000 members and closed 150 churches. The United Methodist Church, which is Minnesota's second-largest Protestant denomination, has closed 65 of its churches.[30]

Other denominations like Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Eastern Orthodox have had slight increases in membership between 2003 and 2018. The number of adults who do not report any religious affiliation has nearly doubled in the United States.[33] In a 2017 article published in Sociological Science, Landon Schnabel and Sean Bock stated that while "moderate religion" has declined in the United States since the late 1980s, "intense religion" including evangelicalism has remained "persistent".[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sherwood, Harriet (21 March 2018). "'Christianity as default is gone': the rise of a non-Christian Europe". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 15 December 2018.
  2. ^ Analysis (19 December 2011). "Global Christianity". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  3. ^ a b Haynes, Jeff (2014-10-13). Religion in Global Politics. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-88667-9.
  4. ^ "Being Christian in Western Europe", Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 2018, retrieved 29 May 2018
  5. ^ "Being Christian in Western Europe", Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 2018, retrieved 29 May 2018
  6. ^ Eastern and Western Europeans Differ on Importance of Religion, Views of Minorities, and Key Social Issues
  7. ^ Vincett, Giselle; Dunlop, Sarah; Sammet, Kornelia; Yendell, Alexander (30 January 2015). "Young People and Religion and Spirituality in Europe: A Complex Picture". Handbook of Children and Youth Studies. Springer. pp. 889–902. doi:10.1007/978-981-4451-15-4_39. ISBN 978-981-4451-15-4.
  8. ^ Vincett, Giselle; Dunlop, Sarah; Sammet, Kornelia; Yendell, Alexander (30 January 2015). "Young People and Religion and Spirituality in Europe: A Complex Picture". Handbook of Children and Youth Studies. Springer. pp. 889–902. doi:10.1007/978-981-4451-15-4_39. ISBN 978-981-4451-15-4.
  9. ^ "Researcher finds a dramatic decline of Christianity in Europe". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2018-07-30.
  10. ^ "Europe's Young Adults and Religion" (PDF): 12.
  11. ^ Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (Centre for Sociological Research) (February 2019). "Barómetro de Febrero de 2019" (PDF) (in Spanish). p. 30. Retrieved 28 February 2019. The question was "¿Cómo se define Ud. en materia religiosa: católico/a, creyente de otra religión, no creyente o ateo/a?"
  12. ^ "The Global Religious Landscape" (PDF). Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  13. ^ Bilefsky, Dan (2018-07-30). "Where Churches Have Become Temples of Cheese, Fitness and Eroticism". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-07-30.
  14. ^ "Falling from Grace - The Rise and Fall of the Quebec Catholic Church". Culture Witness. Retrieved 2018-07-30.
  15. ^ "Religions in Canada—Census 2011". Statistics Canada/Statistique Canada.
  16. ^ Glenties, Conor Gallagher. "Some church teachings have 'as much validity as Danny Healy Rae's views on climate change'". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2018-07-30.
  17. ^ "2011 Census Sample Form" (PDF). Central Statistics Office. p. 4, q.12. Retrieved 15 October 2017.; "Census 2016 Sample Form" (PDF). Central Statistics Office. p. 4, q.12. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  18. ^ Hans Knippenberg, "Secularization in the Netherlands in its historical and geographical dimensions," GeoJournal (1998) 45#3 pp 209-220. online
  19. ^ Tomáš Sobotka and Feray Adigüzel, "Religiosity and spatial demographic differences in the Netherlands" (2002) online Archived 2012-11-15 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Schmeets, Hans (2016). De religieuze kaart van Nederland, 2010–2015 (PDF). Centraal Bureau voor der Statistiek. p. 5.
  21. ^ "Kerncijfers 2012". KASKI. Radboud Universiteit.
  22. ^ Schmeets, Hans (2016). De religieuze kaart van Nederland, 2010–2015 (PDF). Centraal Bureau voor der Statistiek. p. 5.
  23. ^ CBS. "Helft Nederlanders is kerkelijk of religieus". (in Dutch). Retrieved 2017-10-17.
  24. ^ ‹See Tfd›(in Dutch) Fortuyn: grens dicht voor islamiet, Volkskrant, 2002-02-09
  25. ^ "Kardinaal Eijk blokkeert bezoek paus Franciscus". Trouw.
  26. ^ Green, S. J. D. (1996). "9. The forward march of the Christian churches halted? Organisational stasis and the crisis of the associational ideal in early twentieth-century religious institutions". Religion in the age of decline: Organisation and experience in industrial Yorkshire, 1870–1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-511-52299-4. Retrieved 2018-07-31 – via Cambridge University Press.
  27. ^ Peterson, Paul Silas (2017-09-22). "1. An introduction to the essays and to the phenomenon of established Christianity in the Western World". The Decline of Established Christianity in the Western World: Interpretations and Responses. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-351-39042-2.
  28. ^ "UK Census 2001". National Office for Statistics. Archived from the original on 12 March 2007. Retrieved 22 April 2007.
  29. ^ Inc., Gallup,. "Five Key Findings on Religion in the U.S." Retrieved 2018-04-05.
  30. ^ a b c "As churches close in Minnesota, a way of life fades". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2018-07-30.
  31. ^ Cafferata, Gail (June 2017). "Respect, Challenges, and Stress among Protestant Pastors Closing a Church: Structural and Identity Theory Perspectives". Pastoral Psychology. 66 (3): 311–333. doi:10.1007/s11089-016-0751-z. ISSN 0031-2789. Retrieved 2018-07-31 – via EBSCOhost. (Subscription required (help)). Cite uses deprecated parameter |subscription= (help)
  32. ^ a b Dart, John (2008-05-06). "Church-closing rate only one percent". Christian Century. 125 (9): 14–15. ISSN 0009-5281. Retrieved 2018-07-31 – via EBSCOhost.
  33. ^ News, A. B. C. (2018-05-10). "Protestants decline, more have no religion in a sharply shifting religious landscape". ABC News. Retrieved 2018-07-31.
  34. ^ Schnabel, Landon; Bock, Sean (2017). "The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion: A Response to Recent Research" (PDF). Sociological Science. 4: 686–700. doi:10.15195/v4.a28. Retrieved 13 March 2019.