Church leaders acknowledged that it was a "big number" for one month, but hope it has peaked already
After creating a web page to encourage people to join the religion, the Church of Norway saw its congregation fall by 24,653 people in the month of August, a spokesman revealed today. Only 1,177 new faithful used the service to register their religion with the Lutheran sect, the official state religion of Norway.
Despite the huge numbers of people officially parting ways with the Church, the head of the Norwegian Bishops’ Conference Helga Haugland Byfuglien said she would not describe the trend as representing a mass exodus.
“The number of withdrawals must be seen in relation to the large number of members of the Norwegian Church,” the Bishop said, according to The Local.
The Bishop added that the Church of Norway’s pioneering digital approach allowing men and women to join or leave the religion had been widely publicised in Norway, as well as around the world, so Church leaders had been prepared to see large numbers of people leaving.
“We have a great respect for individual choice,” she said.
The head of the Church council, Jens-Petter Johnsen, did acknowledge that 25,000, along with a further 1,000 who left using non-digital means, was a large number, but he was hopeful that the August boom would peter out over the months to come.
“We expect and anticipate that withdrawal number will do down dramatically when the focus of this dies down in the media,” Johnsen said.
As the official state religion of Norway, the Lutheran Church has 3.9m members, including Norwegians living abroad. In 2016, more than 34,000 people have elected to remove themselves from the church’s registers, with 2,000 signing on.
In 2012, the Norwegian Parliament voted to begin proceedings to eventually separate the Church of Norway from the state, for the first time since the country set up its constitution after separating from Denmark and declaring independence in 1814. More than two centuries later, an Ipsos MORI poll found that for the first time in recorded history, more Norwegians are atheists than believe in God.