Interior of a repurposed church in Breda, Netherlands

Novena investigates: The brutal secularisation of the Netherlands

One out of every five churches in the Netherlands is no longer used for the purposes of Christian worship, according a new report.

Driving the news

According to a study carried out by the newspaper Trouw, of the 6,900 churches catalogued architecturally as such in the Netherlands – either Protestant or Catholic – 1,400 – are currently being used not for liturgical purposes but for residential, socio-cultural or for business ones.

Churches built before 1800 continue in Church hands, however. It is those temples built between 1800 and 1970 whose ownership has changed hands.

Breaking the figures down along confessional lines:

  • Of the 3,000 Protestant churches built after 1800, 850 are now in public or private hands.
  • Of the 1,500 Catholic churches built in the nineteenth century or after, 280 are now used for other non-Church-related purposes.

Go deeper

The astounding figures around the deconsecration of churches in the Netherlands are but another sign of the radical secularisation the country has undergone in the last forty years.

In 1971, 40% of Dutch people identified as Catholics. Today, that figure has fallen to only 23%. Actively practising Catholics (who pray, attend Mass regularly, etc.) amount to just 12% of the population.

The decline in Christian practice hasn’t just been limited to the Catholic Church, however.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, 60% of the population of the Netherlands identified as Protestant, but that figure has fallen to just 12% today.

The big picture

A 2015 study by Radboud University and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam on religion in the Netherlands put the religious composition of the country in the following terms:

  • 68% no religious identification or no religion
  • 12% Catholic
  • 8.6% Protestant Church in the Netherlands (Reformed Calvinist and Lutheran)
  • 5% Muslim
  • 4% Other Protestant (Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Conservative Calvinists)
  • 2% Hindu and Buddhist
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Between the lines

The KASKI studies at Radboud University suggest that there could be as many as four million Catholics “registered” in the Netherlands, out of a total population of just over 17 million, but of these just 170,000 are thought to go to Mass on a regular basis, even just once a month.

Another 2015 study found that of these Dutch Catholics, just 13% believe in Heaven and just 8% believe Jesus is the Son of God.

But what explains these figures?

A 2018 study pointed to three factors:

A “modernization of ideologies”

“Through educational expansion between 1966 and 2015, high levels of education have become mainstream and dominant in Dutch society. It seems that the accompanying scientific rationalism is increasingly shared nationwide, which has had a negative impact on the religiosity of the Dutch population and, moreover, specifically on younger people in their formative years”.

A “modernization of economics”

“It appears that the oldest generations of Dutch people, who grew up before World War II, experienced very low levels of social security and continued to be consistently religious. But, as the welfare state expanded, younger generations of Dutch people in their formative years experienced more existential security, which drove them to secularity”.

“Diminishing Christian socialization”

“Over the last decades, Christian socialization of the youngest generations of Dutch people has increasingly taken place in a secular context, putting this socialization under pressure, which means that it is less likely to have a long‐lasting effect on the religiosity of the younger generations”.

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