Western Europe: Religious Practice


In my last post, we looked at how many people in the countries of Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Spain, and Cyprus profess a God-focused worldview. Now let’s consider some religious practices typically associated with an active faith. This worldwide survey did not ask many questions about religious practice, but the three questions asked highlight some interesting differences.

The three questions asked were:

  1. Apart from weddings and funerals, about how often do you pray?
  2. Do you have an active membership in a church or religious organization?
  3. Apart from weddings and funerals, about how often do you attend religious services these days?

Let’s look at the responses based on the country of the respondent, their religious preference, and their age (less than 30 or over 60). The “Pray” columns are those who pray daily or more often. The “Active” columns refer to those who say they have an active membership. The “Attend” columns are those who attend religious services once a month or more often.

Table 1 Those Actively Participating in Religious Practices
Country Age All (%) Protestant {%} Catholic (%)
Pray Active Attend Pray Active Attend Pray Active Attend
Germany All NA 14 20 NA 14 17 NA 27 35
Under 30 NA 9 10 NA 13 7 NA 13 19
Over 60 NA 18 25 NA 16 21 NA 31 48
Netherlands All 19 11 17 65 46 64 31 18 30
Under 30 9 6 11 42 42 77 20 5 21
Over 60 26 16 24 70 48 67 38 22 39
Sweden All 10 6 9 11 8 11
Under 30 9 2 6 6 2 2
Over 60 13 7 12 17 10 15
Spain All NA 7 20 NA 8 24
Under 30 NA 3 6 NA 4 8
Over 60 NA 14 41 NA 15 47
Cyprus All 32 10 35 42 12 44
Under 30 22 6 20 34 7 26
Over 60 52 12 65 55 13 68

We see some widely varying results between countries and age groups, but none are very encouraging. How many say they pray daily or more often? In the Netherlands, almost 2 out of 3 Protestants and 1 out of 3 Catholics. The large number of Nones in the Netherlands drop the percentage for the country as a whole down to less than 1 out of 5. Sweden, on the other hand, has only about 1 out of 10 saying they pray regularly whether they are Protestant or otherwise. We will see how dismal this level is when we compare it to the United States later in this post.

Also, you can see that those under 30 are less likely to pray daily than older adults. However, the small number of adults of all ages praying daily is the dominant factor.

Being an active member of a church is a definite minority in all categories shown. Roughly one out of ten adults claim to be an active church member across all countries and age groups. Once again, the relatively smaller number of young adults who claim to be active is overwhelmed by the small number across the board.

Those who attend church at least once a month reflect percentages almost equal with those who pray daily or more.

What does it look like when we consider those who combine all three of these characteristics as shown below?

Table 2 Those Who Pray at Least Daily, Are Members, and Attend Monthly or More
Country Age All (%) Protestant (%) Catholic (%)
Germany All 9 7 19
Under 30 3 1 7
Over 60 13 10 25
Netherlands All 8 39 10
Under 30 4 35 5
Over 60 12 43 12
Sweden All 3 4
Under 30 1 1
Over 60 4 6
Spain All 5 6
Under 30 1 2
Over 60 12 14
Cyprus All 4 5
Under 30 2 3
Over 60 9 10

Note: For Germany and Spain this does not include “Pray at least daily”

Clearly none of these countries have a significant number of people who report a minimal amount of regular religious involvement. Only among Protestants in the Netherlands do we see more than 1 in 10. The percent of Protestants in the Netherlands is small enough that only 8% of all people in that country report a minimal religious involvement.

Just looking at these three very simple practices, we see that the vast majority of people in all these countries do not actively practice their faith. And, those under the age of 30 are much less likely than their seniors to practice these characteristics.

Now let’s compare the results for Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands with those from the United States as shown in table 3.

Table 3 United States Results Compared to Germany, Sweden and Netherlands (GSN)
Activity Age All (%) Protestant (%) Catholic (%)
Pray daily All 45 10 64 16 51 11
Under 30 34 5 55 6 30 4
Over 60 55 14 65 25 64 18
Active church member All 35 11 54 17 40 23
Under 30 26 6 40 10 34 11
Over 60 42 15 58 22 48 27
Attend monthly or more All 44 16 65 22 10 33
Under 30 36 1 58 10 53 20
Over 60 50 22 67 30 58 43
All three All 26 4 45 9 27 4
Under 30 15 1 32 3 14 1
Over 60 35 6 48 13 41 6

As shown, the religious activities of Western Europeans lag significantly behind the level of activity practiced in the United States. When it comes to daily prayer, over 4 times as many Americans practice this activity across the general population, the Protestant population and the Catholic population. Looking at only those under thirty, we find that over 7 times as many Americans practice daily prayer as do Western Europeans. This increase is not due to an increase in prayer among under 30’s in the United States, but rather due to a significant drop in daily prayer among young adult, Western Europeans.

The table shows similar levels of differences between people in the United States and those in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. Consider the young adults who practice all three of these religious activities. The Americans practice these activities from 10 to 15 times as often as their Western European counterparts. Once again, these huge differences are not due to high levels of faithfulness among Americans. Americans claim only 15% of those under 30 practice all three activities. But rather by the lack of faithfulness among Western Europeans; where only 1% claim to practice all three.

This look at the data on three questions, which describe a very nominal degree of commitment to one’s religious life, clearly shows that Western Europe has a very small remnant of active Christ followers. Without looking at this data, you probably would have agreed with the statement above. But now, you know how significant the problem really is. If they represent the rest of Western Europe, we see that the places where Protestantism was born and initially flourished have become places where Christian religious practice is relegated to a few and ignored by the many.

© Copyright Probe Ministries 2017

Steve Cable

Steve Cable is the Senior Vice President of Probe Ministries. Steve assists in developing strategies to expand the impact of Probe’s resources in the U.S. and abroad. Prior to joining Probe, Steve spent over 25 years in the telecommunications industry. Steve and his wife, Patti, have served as Bible teachers for over 30 years helping people apply God’s word to every aspect of their lives. Steve has extensive, practical experience applying a Christian worldview to the dynamic, competitive hi-tech world that is rapidly becoming a dominant aspect of our society.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.

Further information about Probe’s materials and ministry may be obtained by contacting us at:

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Plano TX 75075
(972) 941-4565

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