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Swiss churches continue to lose members

It is estimated that there were 3.1 million Catholics and two million Protestants in Switzerland at the end of 2019. Keystone / Jean-christophe Bott

The Catholic church saw a 25% increase in the exodus of members last year compared to 2018, while the number of registered Protestants dropped by 18% more than previously reported.  

This content was published on November 19, 2020 - 15:13
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Never before have so many people abandoned the Catholic Church as last year. The religious institution lost 31,772 of its members, according to church statistics from the Swiss Institute for Pastoral Sociology (SPI) in St. Gallen. The exodus in 2019 represents a 25% increase over 2018 and constitutes 1.1% of the entire Swiss Catholic church membership.  

However, the figures were skewed by the western cantons of Geneva, Valais, Neuchâtel and Vaud which reported practically no decline in membership. According to the SPI, this anomaly is because it is not possible to avoid paying church taxes in these cantons even if one leaves the church. 

If these cantons are excluded from the statistics, the average annual rate of loss of members is 1.4%, a figure similar to that of neighbouring countries such as Germany (1.2%) and Austria (1.3%). In these countries too, the decline in Church membership has increased in recent years. 

The Protestant church is also experiencing an exodus. In 2019, 26,198 people left the Church, an 18% increase compared to 2018.  

It is estimated that there were 3.1 million Catholics and two million Protestants in Switzerland at the end of 2019. Most Swiss cantons recognise the two as official religions, which means that those who register as adherents are required to pay a church tax. The amount can vary from place to place. For example, in canton Zug it is an additional 15% of the basic cantonal tax if you are a Roman Catholic and 10% if a Protestant. In some places even businesses have to pay. 

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