The membership of Germany's two largest churches is shrinking, but the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the country's biggest Protestant grouping, has dropped below 25 million members for the first time since the unification of Germany in 1990 - writes Anli Serfontein in Trier, Germany.
At the end of 2007, EKD members accounted for 24.83 million of Germany's 82-million people, the German Protestant news agency epd reported on 17 November. The EKD now has more than a million fewer adherents than it did five years ago.
There were about 268 000 fewer Protestants in Germany in 2007 than in the previous year.
The membership of the Roman Catholic Church also fell in 2007 but by less than the EKD. In all there were 25.46 million Catholics, about 224 000 fewer than in 2006.
At the time of German unification in 1990, there were slightly more Protestants than Catholics throughout the whole of Germany. The former East German states were mainly in the historic Protestant heartland where the reformer Martin Luther lived and worked in the 16th century.
Addressing the issue of members leaving the church, Germany's most senior Protestant bishop, Wolfgang Huber had said in a radio interview with Deutschlandfunk in 2006 that the Church needed to change its mentality.
"We are not only experiencing an irreversible process of people leaving the church. We are experiencing areas, where the reverse is happening and the participation in the life of the Church is again increasing," Huber said.
The significant drop in Protestant membership affects the income of the church, as about 70 percent of church revenues in Germany come from church tax levied on registered church members.
In Germany, 61.2 percent of people now belong either to the EKD or to the Catholic Church. The southern and south-western, predominantly Catholic states of the former West Germany have the highest percentage of Christians living there. They are led by the Saarland bordering on France with 84.6 percent, followed by Rhineland Palatinate (77.4 percent), Bavaria (77.3 percent) and Baden-Württemberg (70.5 percent).
In four of the five former communist East German regional states, less than a quarter of the population still belongs to a church. In Saxony-Anhalt, which includes Wittenberg, where Luther unleashed the Reformation in 1517, only 18.7 percent of the population belongs to the main Protestant or Catholic churches.
It was unclear whether the drop in membership had demographic reasons or whether Christians were also actively leaving the Church, in times of financial and economic hardships.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]