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Churches Are Closing All Over Europe

Churches Are Closing All Over Europe

            In a great many ways, the United States is the child of Europe. Born of European explorers, peopled with European immigrants, the US also maintains family ties with European culture. Our political and social institutions as well as our artistic and educational traditions are European. There are other "genetic" contributors to US society to be sure, but our main lineage is decidedly European.

            For the most part, our European ancestry is positive, or, at the worst, neutral. It does us no harm that English Common Law undergirds our own legal system. It is really quite nice to be able to embrace Shakespeare and the Beetles, Beethoven and BMWs, Italian food, and IKEA as our own.  

            Only when it comes to religion is our European connection a bad thing. Because of our many other cultural connections, what first happens in the European soul eventually enters American hearts and minds, and churches are closing all over Europe. This article is written to report on this trend and to sound a warning about its effects.

"Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale"

            A story in the January 2, 2015 Wall Street Journal carried the headline "Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale." The article included the following falling numbers.

The Church of England closes about 20 churches a year. Roughly 200 Danish churches have been deemed nonviable or underused. The Roman Catholic Church in Germany has shut about 515 churches in the past decade.

But it is in the Netherlands where the trend appears to be most advanced. The country’s Roman Catholic leaders estimate that two-thirds of their 1,600 churches will be out of commission in a decade, and 700 of Holland’s Protestant churches are expected to close within four years.

            Explanations for the decline in Europe's one-vibrant Christian presence include the following:

  • Europe's "graying" population reflects religious stratification by age: the younger generations of Europeans are far less religious than older generations.
  • The difference between the generations reflects growing secularization and decreasing religious interest: the younger generations are getting the secular message that Christianity is out of step with the times and unimportant to their lives.
  • The Christian decline is accelerating: in the past ten years, church attendance has dropped precipitously.
  • Europe is being inundated with immigrants: the changing face of European religion is Islamic.

Crossing the Atlantic

            Remove "Europe" from the sentences, and the four factors listed above describe exactly like what is happening to the U.S. Our close association with the religious conditions of Europe prompted the Wall Street Journal to say, “Within another 30 years the situation in the U.S. will be at least as bad as what is currently evident in Europe.”

What To Do?

            These chilling facts and figures are not pleasant, but we are not helpless in their presence. They call for sober reappraisal and recommitment.

            Unlike the closing decades of the last century, being a Christian in the opening decades of this century requires guts.

  • Recognize that forces throughout our society are conspiring the reduce your commitment to Christianity.
  • Recognize that the people around you are less religious than they need to be and will influence you to be less religious than you need to be.
  • Recognize that genuine Christian commitment is now a minority opinion.

            Unlike the ease of depending on continuing increases in membership and forever increases in contributions, being a leader in today's churches requires gutsy calls. The March 15, 2014 New York Times included an article entitled, "Denominations Downsizing and Selling Assets in More Secular Era." The July 19, 2016 ChristianityToday reported that "decrease in worship center size and capacity" is a growing trend in modern churches.

            The 1980s and 1990s saw a boom in church building as congregations added square feet. Paralleling the building boom was a boom in ministry spending. Church leaders were considered unfaithful if they did not increase spending on unlimited confidence on unlimited increases in contributions. The combination of mortgage payments and expensive ministries overtaxed budgets - which in turn turned off members who felt pressured to give more in financially more uncertain times.