The Roman Catholic Church in Belgium has been hit by one of its most dramatic drops in baptisms in decades, a survey has said, with less than 50 percent of children undergoing the ritual last year.
Evangelical Focus reported on Wednesday that the survey, which is to be released later this year, was commissioned by the Bishops Conference of Belgium, and confirms that parents have a diminishing interest in traditional relationships with the Church.
The decline in baptisms was reportedly highest in Brussels, the nation's capital, which has seen a 32 percent drop since 2010, and it was also significant in Antwerp, which saw a 31 percent decline. What is more, overall church attendance has dropped to less than 10 percent.
Geert De Kerpel, spokesman of the Bishops Conference, said that the results were negative, but insisted there is no need for panic.
"Like any other organization, we would prefer a growth rather than a decline, but we will not start a promotional campaign," he said.
"In the society we see an evolution from a church to which people belonged automatically to a group of people that choose consciously to be part of the church. When people are really convicted they specifically decide to have their children baptized and they will stimulate them to belong to the church."
De Kerpel suggested that "new ways of believing" are needed in a country which was once a Catholic stronghold, but like many other Western European nations, has seen a notable rise of the non-religious.
"We aim to do what the first disciples of Jesus did: to be authentic Christians — a church offering the alternative that people are looking for, a church that is authentic and exciting," the spokesman said.
The steady increase of immigrants in Belgium was credited for the growth of both the evangelical and Muslim communities.
While numbers for each group were not immediately made available, Christians arriving from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana, who are establishing churches, were said to be one of the main factors behind the rise of evangelicals.
The decline of Catholic faith in countries like Belgium is said to be having a notable effect on churches in Africa, according to Bishop Matthew Kukah of Sokoto in Nigeria.
Kukah said in October 2017 that the growing secularization of the West comes at the expense of the Catholic Church.
"From my own experience, I find that the British high commissioner, the ambassadors from European countries, the American ambassador — they are pandering more to Islam than to Christianity, because most of them have turned their backs on Christianity," he said at the time.
"The Arab world is pouring money into Nigeria and the Pentecostal pastors in America are doing the same, and the Catholic Church is now becoming the weakest in terms of access to resources," he added.