Christian practice in the Netherlands drops to its lowest point

Christian practice in the Netherlands drops to its lowest point

Confidence in churches, both Protestant and Catholic, has reached a nadir in the Netherlands, with numbers of Dutch churchgoers halving since 1970. The greatest drop is among Roman Catholics.

This is according to a new report by the Social and Cultural Planning Bureau on the appeal of Christian churches, participating in religious gatherings and the attitude of the Dutch to religious doctrines and the Christian faith tradition.

Fifty years ago, over a third of the Dutch population considered their minister or priest their major point of contact for problems. Now, this applies to only 10 per cent.

Instead, people are increasingly likely to see churches merely as a kind of public utility, used only when needed, such as for weddings or a funerals.

Decreasing faith in church

The decrease in faith in Christian churches has been steady since 1970. Then, more than 60 per cent of the population belonged to a religious community.

In 1980, that number had dropped to 50 per cent and in 2012 it was only 30 per cent.

Church attendance also dropped off rapidly: in the mid-60s, half of Dutch people went to church every week; by the mid-80s that was 17 per cent and now it is only 10 per cent.

Along with attendance, belief among churchgoers is also lessening. In 1966, 51 per cent of churchgoers still believed that you must comply with all the rules of your church. In 2006, that was 34 per cent.

While 25 per cent of Dutch people who never go to church and are not members of one, only 40 per cent of these are atheists. The majority of non-churchgoers say they do believe in a god or some kind of higher power.

Young Christians more orthodox

Another finding of the report was that those young Christians who do regularly attend church increasingly demonstrate more conservative beliefs. The institute even coined a new term for them: neo-fundamentalist.

Whereas 20 years ago, only one-fifth of churchgoers aged between 17 and 30 years believed that you should keep all the commandants of your church; now that has risen to almost half.

According to the study, more young churchgoers consider themselves a devout or religious person than their parents’ generation, and they see a strong faith as the most important value in life. Remarkably, this also includes an increased belief in the reality of both hell and the devil. The growing conservatism is seen both by Catholics and Protestants, the study finds.

This young generation of believers reflects a development among churches in general, which have become both smaller and more orthodox. They also show a remarkable deviation from the rest of the Netherlands, where among their age group only half have any link with a church at all.

Sources: SCP, Volkskrant

Alexandra Gowling


Alexandra Gowling

Alexandra is an Australian citizen and an experienced expat, having spent (quite a bit of) time in Asia before coming to the Netherlands a year ago. She enjoys writing, reading...

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