As more and more people turn away from the churches, the national churches suffer from lower tax revenues. Possible consequences are job cuts and church conversions. Even selling or demolishing places of worship is no longer taboo.
Since the 1970s, Catholic and Evangelical Reformed churches have been systematically losing members. The descent continues, according to a study commissioned by two Swiss national churches by the private research and consulting firm Ecoplan.
Hardly any young, only older believers remain loyal to their churches. Problem: If older members die, younger members will be lacking for years and their growing income will ensure long-term tax revenues.
Urgent need of renovation
This is what the reformed parish of Birmenstorf-Gebenstorf-Turgi in the Canton of Aargau is experiencing. It has to finance three churches that are getting fewer and fewer visitors.
The churches of Gebenstorf and Birmenstorf are protected as monuments. But not the church in Turga – the youngest, built in the 1960s. It needs to be renovated urgently, but there is not enough money for it: “The renovation costs about three million Swiss francs. We would have to borrow two million francs and we would be in debt for the next decades, “says property manager Christoph Zehnder,” we just can’t afford it. “
Churches will have to live on less money
Whether they are Catholic or reformers, the problem is basically the same: fewer members means fewer financial resources. “Until now, the consequences of church abandonment and membership decline have been largely offset by the effects of migration, higher taxpayers’ wages and rising church taxes on businesses, but this positive effect is likely to pass by 2030.” – says Daniel Kosch, secretary. General of the Central Roman Catholic Conference and expert in church finance.
According to Kosch, both denominations would then generate even less income than before. And: “Two regional churches urgently need to reverse the trend of membership development if you want to stop that growth.”
Regional churches have fewer and fewer members
Legend: The Reformed Church of Turga The Church of Turga was built in 1960. It is one of the three churches in the reformed parish of Birmenstorf-Gebenstorf-Turgi. It is the only one that is not on the list. Birmenstorf-Gegenstorf-Turgi Parish
Legend: Laying the foundation stone for the Reformed Church in Turga The Church in Turga is the youngest of the three Reformed parish churches. It was built in 1960 after a nationwide fundraiser. Birmenstorf-Gegenstorf-Turgi Parish
Legend: Reformed Church in Turga The Reformed Church in Turga requires three million francs for renovation. If it is not possible to find an investor who will take over the church, he will be at risk of demolition. SRF
Legend: The nave of the Catholic Church of St. Othmar Fewer members. The size of the church no longer meets today’s needs. SRF
Signature: The Catholic Church of St. Othmar St. Gallen. Both regional churches are losing more and more members. Over the past ten years, the Catholic parish of St. Gallen lost over 4,000 members. IMAGO / Daniel Schwarz
The number of non-religious people is increasing
But there is no reversal of the trend. According to the Ecoplan study, not only is the acceptance of two regional churches declining, but more and more people want to live without religion. In the next two to three years, for the first time, half of all inhabitants will no longer belong to either of the two major national churches.
It will not be without consequences: according to the model calculations of Ecoplan, Catholics in the next two decades will earn about 100 million a year less than today, and the reformers may earn up to 150 million francs less. In the latest data collected since 2017, Catholics had a total of around 860 million francs, and the Reformists 750 million francs a year.
This is how regional churches are financed
Open the box. Close the box
Two churches alone are responsible for funding, with the bulk of their income coming from members’ taxes.
In some cantons, companies are also taxed by the church. Some parishes also generate income from rent, agriculture or forest use. However, this is only a small part of your income.
In just over a quarter of all cantons, both churches receive public funding for their social services, such as pastoral care in hospitals or prisons.
The church in Turga is visited by an average of 15 to 30 people every Sunday. It is intended for 200 believers. The Birmenstorf-Gebenstorf-Turgi parish is looking for an investor who could take over the property or transform it. “A small deacon room would suffice,” says property manager Christoph Züricher. If that fails, the church in Turga will have to be torn down, for better or for worse.
Churches are sold or rented
The search for investors for churches that can no longer be financed is common, says Johannes Stückelberger, professor of religious and ecclesiastical aesthetics at the University of Bern.
Stückelberger has created a database that documents the various reconstructions of churches over the past 25 years: “Demolition is a strategy that is very rarely used, also because many churches are monuments. Churches are often sold or rented. There are also partial rentals, ie the model that the church remains the owner but gives up some rooms »explains Stückelberger.
Also in the Catholic Church of St. Othmar in St. Gallen is attending services less and less of the faithful. Over the past ten years, the parish has lost over 4,000 members. “These are social changes, megatrends that cannot be stopped by immediate measures,” explains Armin Bossart, president of St. Gallen.
Oversizing “without taboos and prohibitions of thinking”
The parish, which also includes the Church of St. Othmara, manages 35 estates, 16 of which are churches and chapels. The parish is currently investigating which of these qualities will still be needed in the long run – “no taboos or prohibitions on thinking,” says Bossart.
Members can make suggestions. It will be voted in the fall. The fact that the parish of St. Contrary to the Reformed Church in Turga, the Church of St.