As Christianity declines in Europe, churches are put up for sale

This sad story is from the Wall Street Journal.


Two dozen scruffy skateboarders launched perilous jumps in a soaring old church building here on a recent night, watched over by a mosaic likeness of Jesus and a solemn array of stone saints.

This is the Arnhem Skate Hall, an uneasy reincarnation of the Church of St. Joseph, which once rang with the prayers of nearly 1,000 worshipers.

It is one of hundreds of churches, closed or threatened by plunging membership, that pose a question for communities, and even governments, across Western Europe: What to do with once-holy, now-empty buildings that increasingly mark the countryside from Britain to Denmark?

[…]The closing of Europe’s churches reflects the rapid weakening of the faith in Europe, a phenomenon that is painful to both worshipers and others who see religion as a unifying factor in a disparate society.

[…]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.

[…]As communities struggle to reinvent their old churches, some solutions are less dignified than others. In Holland, one ex-church has become a supermarket, another is a florist, a third is a bookstore and a fourth is a gym. In Arnhem, a fashionable store called Humanoid occupies a church building dating to 1889, with racks of stylish women’s clothing arrayed under stained-glass windows.

In Bristol, England, the former St. Paul’s church has become the Circomedia circus training school. Operators say the high ceilings are perfect for aerial equipment like trapezes.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, a Lutheran church has become a Frankenstein-themed bar, featuring bubbling test tubes, lasers and a life-size Frankenstein’s monster descending from the ceiling at midnight.

Jason MacDonald, a supervisor at the pub, says he has never heard complaints about the reuse. “It’s for one simple reason: There are hundreds and hundreds of old churches and no one to go to them,” Mr. MacDonald said. “If they weren’t repurposed, they would just lie empty.”

Many churches, especially smaller ones, are becoming homes, and that has spawned an entire industry to connect would-be buyers with old churches.

The churches of England and Scotland list available properties online, with descriptions worthy of a realty firm. St. John’s church in Bacup, England, for example, is said to feature “a lofty nave as well as basement rooms with stone-vaulted ceilings,” and can be had for about $160,000.

There are many reasons why Christianity has declined in Europe, but surely the widespread embrace of left-wing economic policies – even by evangelical Christians – is one of the largest.

Here’s a fairly recent paper (PDF) that explains it:

What accounts for cross-national variation in religiosity as measured by church attendance and non-religious rates? Examining answers from both secularization theory and the religious economy perspective, we assert that cross-national variation in religious participation is a function of government welfare spending and provide a theory that links macro-sociological outcomes with individual rationality. Churches historically have provided social welfare. As governments gradually assume many of these welfare functions, individuals with elastic preferences for spiritual goods will reduce their level of participation since the desired welfare goods can be obtained from secular sources. Cross-national data on welfare spending and religious participation show a strong negative relationship between these two variables after controlling for other aspects of modernization.

I have many friends in the UK who classify themselves as evangelical Christians. They almost all embrace moderate to leftist economics, and they complain to me about why the church is in decline, why there is no interest in apologetics, why they can’t find Christian girlfriends, why they can’t get speaking engagements. The answer is, of course, that by majoring only in theology and apologetics, they have crafted the rope that their secular allies in government are using to hang them. Leftism is embraced by European Christians in part because they don’t want to be like those dastardly Americans with their free enterprise system and their rule of law and their private property and their law-abiding gun ownership.

It just goes to show you why Christianity suffers when we focus on piety at the expense of practicality. Too much A. W. Tozer, not enough F.A. Hayek. I doubt my well-meaning UK Christian friends – who are so proud of their laughable NHS health care – even know who F.A. Hayek is. To think that Lady Thatcher ones brandished “The Constitution of Liberty” by F.A. Hayek and declared “this is what we believe!”. But ordinary UK Christians do not believe what she believes, and now they must reap what they sowed with their knee-jerk rejection of the free enterprise system. Ignorance of economics killed Christianity in Europe, and pious, risk-averse Christians were willing participants in the murder.

6 thoughts on “As Christianity declines in Europe, churches are put up for sale”

  1. The same thing is happening here in New England which is not surprising as New Hampshire and Vermont regularly appear at the bottom of annual surveys on church attendance per capita.

    Despite that though, I would point out that even in places, such as Dallas, with a thriving church, old churches are abandoned or even razed as no one wants pews and stained glass in place of modern sound and lighting.


  2. This is an interesting thought. However, I don’t think blaming Europe’s devastating departure from Christianity solely on leftist economics is entirely correct. I would ask what underlying philosophies are these varying views of economics based on. I think that is what needs to be addressed rather than taking issue with the policies themselves. (although that definitely does have its place)

    As Nancy Pearcey so eloquently states regarding the science/ religion debate: “The media paints the evolution controversy in terms of science versus religion. But it is much more accurate to say it is worldview versus worldview, philosophy versus philosophy.”

    I see this as analogous to the leftist versus conservative economics battle in Europe and the United States. The foundational truths people base their lives on (including decision makers) will translate to how economics is perceived and therefore what decisions are made.

    Have we wrestled with and developed a stance on important issues? Is that stance grounded biblically? Is this the basis on which we are electing our decision makers? How are the Christian leaders that we do have making an impact, and are we supporting them? These are the questions we need to ask.

    That is why I like apologetics so much. It makes you think critically and enables one to develop a cohesive worldview. A worldview which includes an economic stance based on more than just ideas that sound good.


    1. Well, the study I linked to seems to say that the more people depend on a secular government for a social safety net, the less room there is for the private charity championed by religious people. I guess what you’re saying is that the economics is the symptom, and the underlying cause is secularism – that this life is all there is. So, then you would see more emphasis on having fewer children, more emphasis on borrowing from the future, more emphasis on abortion and euthanasia… hmmmm I sort of see where you are coming from here. It does make sense.

      I like apologetics a lot, too. And for the same reason as you.

      Have you read this recent article by Jay Richards?

      He argues that religious liberty and economic liberty (small government, free enterprise, free trade, property rights, etc.) are intertwined.

      I agree with him. My reason for supporting the free market system is to keep my religious liberty. The less control of things like education and health care that the government has, the more freedom I will have to chart my own course.


  3. Please bear in mind that correlation is not necessarily causation. Our church closure problem in Europe is almost entirely caused by a combination of a lack of apologetics (thus reducing church-attendance to crude consumerism or cultural duty), church mismanagement, being saturated in an intensely anti-Christian atmosphere and an over-abundance of shallow emotionalism and/or theological liberalism in the Church.


  4. The culture of death, which is highly correlated with, and necessarily caused by, government-enforced wealth redistribution, is the main problem in Western Europe. Consequently, making Amerika into Western Europe is the liberal version of utopia, now that the USSR is no longer available for their role model. Then, Democrats will no longer have to pretend to believe in God and mangle Bible verses. They will no longer need to hire “How to fake Christianity” coaches before elections, immediately firing them right after. Surely such coaches have the shortest tenure!

    In the future, WK, please do not use the terms “leftist” and “Christian” in the same sentence unless there are an odd number of negative qualifiers also included. My GI system simply will not stand it.


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