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

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

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.

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

  1. It seems to me that the negative correlation between state welfare spending (leftist economic policies) and Church attendance has little to do with real Christianity. To say that “Ignorance of economics killed Christianity in Europe” is wrong. All it really did is expose the tares among the wheat. Or as John said “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. – 1 John 2:19”

    The true church has always been smaller than the visible church.

  2. Neo Liberalism and Austrian Theory have nothing to do with Christianity historically.

    Back in the day when Christendom ruled the Church and Guilds had a heavy regulatory hand of the economy , making church holidays no work days, controlling prices, wages, housing, retirement a a lot of things.

    Usury which is basically the entire economy now was a serious crime

    They served the role the state does today , regulation and charity and basically help keep a steady state economy and outside of harvest a work week not that dissimilar to ours.

    Its my contention that the Church operating as regulatory body allowed a much higher population density than would otherwise be possible,

    It was fragile though and when the Black Plague came. Look out.

    Now that they are not needed in the regulatory and charity role, they are struggling to find another role to fill.

  3. I’d have to look up where I read it, but I recently read about the amount of true Christianity back in the “Good old days” when everyone was supposed to be devout.

    It talked about how pastors had problems preaching sermons, as even though many went to church it was common for many to be drunk and heckle.

    Are there really fewer Christians, or are those who never were not pretending any more.

    I do agree that part of the issue is 1- Churches are not doing enough charity, assuming the government will do it, and 2- as Catholic adoption organizations have learned, Government doesn’t want them to.

    1. A lot of truth to what you are saying. The vast majority of people probably don’t seriously believe in their religion but only go along to get along.

      Churches are aware of this but membership numbers, even weak sauce members are power and money.

      States too want the social capital of assumed compliance and wise leader understand most people aren’t faithful.

      Its nothing new. The Romans knew and did not care if anyone actually believed in Jupiter only if they performed the rituals and increased the social glue.

      The actual freedom to say “No thanks” at least to Christianity here in the West is new and while its not always a positive thing, I think on the whole, its a net plus. A smaller church with more devout members is not a bad thing.

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