Before we speculate about what the churches have done wrong again, let's briefly refresh ourselves with the idea that it could also be a mistake for church members if they quit on a massive scale. It's like the mass rush to the Baltic Sea. In search of freedom, Tout le monde flees to crowded beaches instead of turning to the provinces, for example to Havelberg in Saxony-Anhalt, where suddenly one of these ancient domes rises that make you think you are at least in Seville .
In fact, this is the German northeast, an area deprived of poverty and atheism, but a thousand years ago the episcopal power was so great that a multitude of imposing churches emerged. Her aura has not weakened since then; and the faith that they once gave shape still outshines the area.
This reminds us that Germany is one of the countries with the richest Christian cultural heritage. If you think that the Germans are indifferent to their churches, simply because the number of church members has been falling for years, imagine what would happen if the sky-high Havelberg cathedral collapsed due to dilapidation. Or if the Berlin Cathedral went bankrupt, which is quite possible because of Corona.
It is secretly thought that the less we are, the more we are right
Then everyone would whine, like the Notre-Dame fire, instead of asking why they didn't care about the church in time - for their preservation, their renewal. So, a question for the newly departed church members: Was it perhaps more convenient to leave?
No, of course it was uncomfortable after the abuse scandals, yes painful. To see that the churches still do not allow for the kind of hard enlightenment that would be inevitable after all the hushing up and frustration. And yet that is not the whole explanation for the withdrawals. Never before have so many Protestants and Catholics left their church in Germany as in 2019, a whopping 542,771. Now you could say that there are enough Christians left. The EKD has 20.7 million Protestants, almost a quarter of the population (24.9 percent). Catholics make up 22.6 million, more than a quarter (27.2 percent). Nevertheless, the leaders of both churches are contrite.
And now? Faithfulness to the church no longer depends on faith. Because the crucial question of whether someone believes is answered by some baptized people with "Well" and some people who left the school with "Of course". Although some of the last arch-conservatives bravely claim that today's pastors simply have to speak more of faith and less of politics, then that will be the case again. It has been shown, however, that the salvation of church growth cannot be brought about in this or that way. Some Christians want the Church more pious, others more political. Some want them to be proud of tradition, others want reform.
So far, both churches have reacted more anxiously than courageously to this problem. Roughly speaking, the Catholics have been deeply divided for half a century as to whether they should demonize modernity or take care of modern people as they are. The Protestants, broadly speaking, have made themselves comfortable under the illusion that they are the more progressive church and that thanks to the Reformation there is no longer any need for real reforms. At the same time, a secret feeling of superiority has grown in both shrinking churches, a pride of loser that occurs at the base as well as in the hierarchy. Joseph Ratzinger's defiant word from the church of the small crowd expressed what not only his fans felt: the less we are, the more we are right.
Perhaps it is this pride mixed with shame that makes church speaking difficult. You have a message that is not from this world, but you want to be earth-shattering. One is different, but is afraid to be touched. You have a promise of salvation on the other side, but you also want to get here, preferably with everyone. The result: you talk anointingly over people's heads and wonder that they run away.
What helps? First, the sentence that a marketing expert said at a parish convention - that "everyone" is not a target group. Second: drive to Havelberg and marvel at the miracle of the church building associations in the northeast who want to preserve their churches, even though they are not church members themselves. Third, remember that the size of the church is not measured by membership.