Dutch Leaving Churches at Faster Rate

Just one in five still attend church regularly. The number of Dutch who describe themselves as atheist is rising.

The Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, February 11, 2013
The Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, February 11, 2013 (Bert Kaufmann)

The Netherlands has continued to secularize at a rapid pace in the last decade. A survey conducted every ten years by the country’s largest Christian broadcaster found that less than one in five still attend church on any regular basis.

A quarter of respondents described themselves as atheist, up from 14 percent in 2006.

Only another quarter said they worried the country’s dwindling religiosity could precipitate a moral decline, down from 40 percent ten years ago. A majority argued that faith should play no major role in either politics or education.

Christian nation

While liberal and pluralistic, the Netherlands is historically a Christian nation. Our briefing on Dutch society argues that Calvinists in particular, while relatively few in number, were able to impose their values of hard work, thrift and obedience to rules on the whole country.

Into the 1950s, Catholic and Protestant life was largely segregated in accordance with the Neo-Calvinist doctrine of “sphere sovereignty,” which allows for the coexistence of diverse social and religious groups in a single society. (Which goes some way to explaining the Dutch’s “live and let live” attitude.) The religious groups had their own newspapers, political parties, school and trade unions.

Many of those institutions survive. Some 70 percent of public schools in the Netherlands are nominally Christian (or Islamic). Christian democratic parties were the dominant force in Dutch politics up to recently.


Yet only a quarter of the Dutch belong to a Christian church anymore. 5 percent are Muslim. Another 2 percent adhere to a different religion.

Catholics are secularizing at the fastest rate. Half say the Church of Rome is no longer relevant to their way of life. A third of Protestants say the same about their church.