The mainline Protestant Churches in Germany have launched a process of radical renovation and renewal which they hope will make them fit for the 21st century.
The process has reached a "point of no return," said the Protestant leader, Bishop Wolfgang Huber, at the close of a three-day congress on the future in Wittenberg, January 27.
In the East German town where Martin Luther started the reformation in 1517 roughly 300 representatives from the churches and public life discussed prospects and perspectives for a more agile and missionary minded church in the coming decades.
The former "people's church" in Martin Luther's home country has suffered continuous membership losses since the seventies. This decline is likely to continue, mainly for demographic reasons: Germany is suffering from a severe lack of children.
If nothing changes, the total membership of the mainline Protestant churches will drop from 25.6 million to 17 million by the year 2030. The annual income from church tax - currently four billion Euros (US-Dollars 5.2 billion) - will be halved.
Church attendance is also low. Less than four percent of all church members worship on an average Sunday. The aim is to stop membership losses and raise the average worship attendance to ten percent.
Summing up the congress in Wittenberg Bishop Huber said the deliberations had not focused on statistics but on the need to strengthen the faith and the quality of spiritual life within the 23 regional churches.
Huber rejected allegations in the media that the Protestant churches are too inward looking. In a modern pluralistic society it is of utmost importance to discuss the role of religion, he said.
The churches would continue to challenge social and political problems like unemployment, globalization and education, but their primary competence was in the field of religion. The intention is to position the Protestant Churches as a "church of freedom", said Huber.
During a reception Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble called for "strong, courageous and forward looking churches". It would be a great encouragement for society as a whole, if churches tried to find the way into the future without moaning about the need for radical and sometimes painful reforms.
Wolfgang Polzer (56), is senior news editor of the Evangelical News Agency (idea) Wetzlar (Germany), which he joined in 1981. In all, he has spent 30 years in Christian media.
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