Church attendance hits new low

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A vast majority of Norwegians are members of the state church, but new figures confirm that hardly any actually go to church on Sundays. Only 2 percent regularly attend services, putting Norway at the bottom of the church attendance rankings in Europe.

Newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad obtained fresh statistics from a comprehensive European survey called European Social Survey (ESS). They indicate that Norwegians are among the least religious in Europe and the most seldom church-goers.
Only 10 percent of Norwegians responding to the survey attend church once a month or more often. Of the 31 countries in Europe that took part in the ESS survey, only Estonia ranked lower, with 8.8 percent of its population attending church once or more a month.

In Poland, by contrast, 71.5 percent of the population goes to church at least once a month.

Norway’s state church, the country’s largest, attracts only 100,000 persons every Sunday. That amounts to just 2 percent of the population and 2.6 percent of total church members.

Fully 80.7 percent of the Norwegian population are members, but mostly because many parents still baptize their newborns and baptismal certificates function like birth certificates in Norway. That means most persons born in Norway almost automatically become church members until they actively cancel their membership later in life.”These numbers show that we seem to have a bit of a church service crisis,” said Vidar Kristensen of the state church’s information service. “Church services don’t appeal to many people.”

Kristensen insisted, however, that the poor church attendance on Sundays doesn’t necessarily mean Norwegians are entirely uninterested in their church, which is Evangelical Lutheran. “Many take part in other activities during the week,” he said.

Norway’s Catholic services are packed every week, which one local priest attributed to the Catholics’ sense of duty. Muslims also fill local mosques for Friday prayers, while the state church sees a need to take active steps to lure more folks to Sunday services.”The church can’t rest when so few members go to services,” said Paul Erik Wirgenes of the Norwegian Church Council. He says the low attendance figures are the church’s biggest challenge.

He won’t set any specific targets for attendance, but told Stavanger Aftenblad that “it’s a central goal to get more people to go to church.”

Church officials are trying to reform services, modernize their language and make the services more relevant to daily life. They also think more people should lead or take part in services than just the local pastor and organist. They’re also considering moving services from the traditional 11am.

“That was mostly aimed at making church services convenient for farmers, who came after caring for animals in the morning and before making afternoon rounds,” said Wigernes, noting that more people might be attracted to evening services or at a time that doesn’t come right in the middle of a day off work.

“The most important is that folks come, and that services still be held on Sunday,” he said.