There are various German words, which just aren't easily explained or translated in some manner to make sense with a single line of explanation. Kirchenaustritt is such a word.
Remember, I write this blog as an American, for non-Germans.
Kirchenaustritt means.....you are a current member of some recognized church in Germany.....and you've decided 'enough is enough', and you are quitting the church. I should note....this is not where the church is quitting you or terminating you from the membership. You've simply given notice that you won't be affiliated with this church or religion any longer.
In Germany, it's actually a civil right....written into the basic law itself. Historically, this goes back to the 1840s and was made a Prussian (way before the German state) civil right.
Reasons for Kirchenaustritt? Well, there could be a hundred reasons. You might have gotten all upset about some commentary from the Pope. You might be hostile toward spending practices of your religion. You might be frustrated over some political agenda that your church has adapted. You might have personally changed your lifestyle and can't believe in religion. The list goes on and on.
The chief happening once you settle on Kirchenaustritt? The church tax ends. You have to remember....Germany has an percentage of your pay drawn out each month, to cover the church tax. Part of the reason for this.....is that while people may claim some religion....the truth is....they really don't attend church very often. You might live in a village of two-thousand people, with one single church.....and discover on a typical Sunday that only sixty people attend the church. Upon examination, you find that there are over six-hundred people in the village who are tax-paying members of the church. Maybe around Christmas and Easter.....the other five-hundred-odd people will show up for a service or two.
Here's the kicker for Kirchenaustritt.....once you make this decision, there's a fee involved. Naturally, you'd ask what kind of fee. The best way to describe this....an administrative fee for paperwork. Here in Hessen (my local state)....it's twenty-five Euro for you to quit the church.
State-by-state, there's different fees. For example, in Bavaria....it's thirty-one Euro to quit. In Bremen, it's five-Euro to quit. Brandenburg? Free.
Why a difference in fee.....state-by-state? It's an excellent example of how Germany is not a united country, and more of a sixteen-state federation. Each state has it's own general rules and fees, depending on what they want to accomplish.
Quitting usually requires one single form.....a couple pieces of personal information, and is then accepted by the clerk in your local town. For the most part.....they verify who you are and then stamp the document as official. Someone will take it and finalize it in some database, and within a week or so....you are out of the system. Should it cost twenty-five Euro? The clerk would be there anyway and already paid by the government. It's not that clear how the money fits into this deal unless it's just a profit-making gimmick to put more money into the local state government.
How many Germans quit on a yearly basis? This is a curious question. In a period of 1937 to 1939....roughly 1.2 million Germans quit their religion (Nazi era). In another period of 1991 to 1995, there were roughly 2.2 million Germans to quit their religion. In 2011, there were roughly 260,000 Germans to quit their religion. If you look over a twenty-year period....it's well over six million Germans who quit.
So, if you hear some German talking up Kirchenaustritt.....this is the whole explanation to what is going on.