Despite 47% of residents in the capital of Finland being members of the mainline Lutheran Church, most Christians attend other congregations.
Christian Magazine Uusi Tie found out where do Finnish Christians gather on Sundays. Only about a third of worshipers go to the services of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF) in the capital city of Finland.
According to a survey conducted by this magazine, about 11,300 people go to the service of a Christian community in Helsinki on Sundays. The number is less than 2% of Helsinki’s 657,000 population. We did not ask about the residences of the visitors. It is possible that some go to a church service in a neighbrouhood that is not their own or even from the larger region.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF) is the largest denomination in Helsinki based on the number of members. Almost half of the city’s residents (47,4%) belong to the ELCF. However, if you look at the number of worshipers, the mainline church is not that big.
On a weekly basis, ELCF services have an average of about 3,800 worshipers.
In contrast, around 7,500 people attend other worship services in Helsinki. Therefore, only about a third of the churchgoers go to ELCF services. The number would be even lower, if we didn’t count the most popular Christian feasts, especially in Christmas time.
The distribution of churchgoers according to the branch of Christianity foes like this:
• 33.4% attend local parishes of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF).
• 23.8% attend the main gathering or service of Lutheran organisations (which are members of the ELCF).
• 1.5% attend Independent Lutheran or Anglican congregations.
• 14.1% attend evangelical Churches (e.g. Pentecostals, Baptists, Free Evangelical Church, Methodists…)
• 12.8% attend a Catholic Church service.
• 4.5% attend an Orthodox Church service.
• 9.9% attend international churches.
The survey also found that there are 77 parishes or Christian congregations in Helsinki. The list is not complete, because not all congregations – especially immigrant communities – necessarily have websites, but information about joint gatherings is spread through the grapevine.
The number of visitors to ELCF services is public information and can be found in the Church's statistics service. The number of visitors of the other communities involved in the study is based on the communities’ own data.
Veli-Matti Salminen, from the Church Institute for Research and Advanced Training says that the ELCF has thought a lot and for a long time about why the church services are not successful. The reasons are familiar: secularisation, the waning appreciation of traditions and the weakening of institutional religiosity.
Those who still go to church services find their place more often from other services than ELCF’s.
“People long for community and involvement. The congregation’s worship may be perceived as too employee-driven. For example, a certain kind of worship music can also be attractive”, Salminen reflects.
It is noteworthy that Christian communities other than ELCF represent so-called conservative Christianity. The members of these communities are often practicing Christians and not just nominal members. For this reason, they represent a larger proportion of churchgoers compared ot their official membership.
Helsinki has the largest number of people with a foreign background in Finland. Pastor Timo Keskitalo, who works with immigrants, recalls that forty years ago there was only one international congregation in Helsinki, the International Evangelical Church (IEC).
“When the international church started to have enough people of certain backgrounds, they started to form their own communities. Generally, the formation of a community requires a leader figure”, Keskitalo estimates.
In recent years, international churches have also been born as a result of purposeful church planting. For example, there are numerous missionary churches in Africa that establish congregations in Europe.
According to Keskitalo, a typical international congregation is not committed to a specific confession. The communities are charismatic, evangelical, trusting in the Bible and conservative in values. Their pastors do not necessarily have a degree, which leads to the fact that the level of theology in these churches varies.
This article was first published by Uusi Tie in Finnish and translated with permission.