Svenska kyrkan

“Don’t believe in God” - the most common reason for renunciation of membership of the Church of Sweden

1.5 per cent of members left the Church of Sweden during 2016. A new survey confirms the view that the decision is a longer process. Photo: Gustaf Hellsing
Press Release – 11/04/2017 06:03 CET

“I don’t believe in God.” This is the most common response to why people choose to leave the Church of Sweden, a new survey shows.

2016 was a year with an unusually high number of renunciations for the Church of Sweden. Member statistics, which have now been finally compiled, show that 90,000 people (1.5% of the membership), chose to leave the Church of Sweden during the year. This statistic is being released by the Church of Sweden at the same time as the results of a survey of the reasons behind renunciation.

It appears that by far the most common reason why people leave the Church is that they do not believe in God – 40 per cent of respondents gave this reason. The next most common reasons given were that membership does not feel meaningful (18 per cent) and financial motives (17 per cent). “These responses are consistent with a number of previous surveys,” says Pernilla Jonsson, analysis manager at the Church of Sweden’s research department.

In debate in recent years about renunciation of membership of the Church, the argument time and again has been that people leave the Church of Sweden because it is perceived as being far too theologically conservative, or because it is seen as political. However, this type of reason rarely comes up in these surveys, with only 1.9 per cent of respondents giving reasons such as this for leaving the Church.

“The present survey confirms the view we already had that for most people, the decision to leave is a longer process. The person might have only a weak connection to the Church, or has not reflected greatly on his or her membership, and when the Church receives attention in the public sphere, they are reminded of their membership and then begin to examine it,” says Pernilla Jonsson.

Renunciations in 2016 largely followed the usual pattern in terms of which groups are most likely to leave the Church. However, a difference did occur during June and July, when many people, mostly in older age groups, renounced a long-standing membership. This could be clearly linked to the media’s criticism of the Church’s travel expenditure in the early summer, and most likely reflected a question of confidence,” says Pernilla Jonsson.

“Renunciations then remained at a higher level than usual until October, but it isn’t possible to connect this in the same way to any specific event or events.”

During 2016, just over 8,000 people chose to join the Church of Sweden, which is roughly at the same level as in the past few years.

The survey was conducted between 24 November and 9 December 2016. It was based on a questionnaire addressed to 5384 Swedes, and conducted by Nordstats webpanel by order of the Church of Sweden.

The survey does not specify when the renunciations occurred. They may have occurred during 2016 or earlier. The Church of Sweden also conducted a special survey of the reasons behind renunciation of membership in 2016. It will be presented in the autumn.





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