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Pratique religieuse

Public attendance

Alongside other Nordic countries, Finland appears as a country where public practice of religion is low. Gallup Ecclesiastica 2019 survey pointed out that 70% of Finnish people either attend church service less frequently than once a year or have not attended at all over the last years. Six percent of Finns attend at least monthly, of which 2% weekly. In 2015, 9% attended monthly. Attendance has decreased significantly in the twenty-first century. In 2000, there were altogether 4.56 million attendances at main services ; in 2015 the number was 3.29 million. This denotes a decrease of more than a million.

There are major differences in worship attendance between different religious communities and groups. According to Gallup Ecclesiastica 2019, one tenth (8%) of the members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF) attended worship monthly ; one third (29%) of the members of the Orthodox Church and half (48%) of the members of other religious communities did so. Most actively attended those who described themselves as born-again Christians, nearly half (46%) of them attending worship at least monthly. Those considering themselves as religiously conservative created the second most active group, a quarter (25%) attending worship at least once a month.

Figure 1. Religious service attendance of Finns according to religious belonging, Gallup Ecclesiastica 2019, N=4 275.

Those who participated worship monthly are mainly of the age cohorts of the youngest (15-29 years) and the oldest (70-79 years). Of 30-54 years old Finns more than half have not been to a religious service in the recent years. Women over 70 years were the most active group. Women have earlier been distinctively more active participants than men, but gender differences in attendance have levelled out. In 2019, one fifth of both men and women attended worship at least a few times a year. At least monthly attended 7% of men and 6% of women.

There are changes in attendance especially among women. Two fifths of women over the age of 70 attended worship at least a few times a year, but of those under 30 years of age only a little more than a tenth (14%) did so. Of women under the age of 40 more than half had not attended worship at all in recent years.

There are differences in worship attendance also when comparing different living environments. Of those living in urban settings, 70% reported attending worship less than once a year or not at all ; of those living in rural areas, 56% reported doing so.

The coronavirus pandemic changed the way people worship and the presence of parishes online. Church statistics (2020) point out that there is a significant increase in the number of people following worship online in comparison to people attending worship a year before the pandemic. New groups of viewers and listeners of the worship have been participating. Coronavirus survey of the Church Research Institute points out that half of the Finns consider it important to have a possibility to attend online devotion and worship. Furthermore, a survey of Finns during the coronavirus situation found out that 14% of Finns had followed worship or online devotions of the church. It was most common among the oldest age cohort (those over 70), but, for example, a tenth (12%) of those under the age of 30 reported having followed services online.

The most popular time to go to church is Christmas time. Over the last twenty years there have, however, been considerably less attendance even on Christmas holidays. The majority of over 55-year-old women attended church at Christmas, but with women between 30 and 39 years the figure was significantly lower with 39% usually attending church at Christmas. Among men there is less contrast between the age cohorts.

Church Rites

Church rites have long been a significant reason to belong to the church. In the twenty-first century, the participation in the occasional offices has, however, substantially decreased. In 2000 almost all the deceased were given a church burial, nine in ten newborns were baptised, and seven in ten couples getting married were married in church. Figure 2 points out that even though the number of burials has not dramatically decreased, the overall picture is clear ; the church does not meet all Finns in their life celebrations, nor is it self-evident that church rites are chosen to mark the celebration. This is highlighted within the younger generation.

Figure 2. The frequency of Church rites 2000-2019. Church statistics. The burial service remains quite common – 95% receive a church burial. In the 21st century, the incidence of baptisms and marriages has sharply declined.

The number of baptisms has decreased for two reasons : there is a lower birth rate in Finland overall, and the willingness to baptise has declined. The number of baptised has almost halved since 2000 and the change has been prominent especially after 2016. Getting married has overall decreased for over a decade, and the decrease has been significant especially among 20-24 years old and 30-34 years old Finns. Since 2014 the majority of weddings has been civil weddings. However, according to Gallup Ecclesiastica 2019 survey, three in five (60%) Finns and three quarters (73%) of the church members considered a religious ceremony very important or important in connection to a birth of a child (60%) or to marriage (60%). Women considered religious wedding ceremony important more often than men. Similar gender differences occur in connection to baptism : more women than men considered religious ceremonies as important or very important when a child is born. Least important these rituals were to those between 30 and 39 years old.

The number of people participating in funerals has declined in the twenty-first century. The average attendance of funerals has decreased from 43 (2000) to 33 people (2019). A church burial differs from the other occasional offices in that church membership is not required. Still, Gallup Ecclesiastica 2019 survey pointed out that two thirds (68%) of Finns and 82% of church members saw a religious ceremony as very important in the occasion of death. The majority of Finns in all age cohorts holds religious services important when someone dies. Again, women (73%) considered religious service to be important more often than men (63%). People over the age of 70 considered a religious ceremony more important than the other age cohorts, as with other church rites. Finns between the ages 30 and 39 are the least willing to have a church burial. More of them do not want a Christian burial.

The individualisation of religiosity is reflected in how individuals increasingly decide for themselves what to involve in their religious practice. Another key factor contributing to the decline of church rites is that while 68,6% (2019) of Finns still belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF), there is a growing incidence of resigning from church membership especially among young adults. Baptisms and church marriages are particularly affected by this. The conditions of the Church Order are not met in an increasing number of couples wanting to get married ; at least one partner of the couple must be a member of the church and the other one must belong to a Christian denomination. Also, the baptism of a child requires of at least one parent belonging to the ELCF. Many partners live in religiously diverse families as especially most men under 35 years do not belong to the church. Therefore, choices concerning family celebrations are not obvious, but they are reached through negotiation.

Private Practice

Age, gender, and Christian heritage of the home have a significant influence on whether a person practice spirituality. Religious practices and habits were most important among women of 55-79 years old and men of 15-29 years old. Only few had a separate, concrete place for devotion, but nature was considered as an important environment for quieting down : 42% of Finns saw that exercising and spending time in the nature took them closer to God or to some other higher power. All in all, the practice of private spirituality is more often seen as part of other aspects of life than as a separated part of life.

Figure 3 points out that the most common private practice of religion is praying. According to Gallup Ecclesiastica 2019 survey half of the Finns prayed at least once a year (figure 3). One in three prayed at least a few times a month (36%), while slightly fewer did not pray at all (33%). Every sixth prayed daily, but especially the daily praying of women has decreased from the years 2015 to 2019. Women between 70 to 79 years prayed most actively, followed by women between 55 and 69 years. Those who had learned to pray as children, prayed more probably also as adults. Prayers were expressed in various ways : as a song, hymn, sigh, a thought in one’s mind or in written. Prayer was seen as something that helps through a crisis and gives strength and resilience for daily life. A prayer without words was the most common form of prayer, followed by an evening prayer and prayer of intercession.

Figure 3. Private practice of religion of Finns (%). Gallup Ecclesiastica 2011, N=4 930 ; 2015, N=4 144 ; 2019, N=4 065. The figure shows the prevalence of prayer, listening to spiritual music, reading religious literature, and reading the Bible. The most common is prayer ; the least common is reading the Bible. There is considerable variation between the different survey rounds.

More than one in five Finns listened to spiritual music at least a few times a month. Reading of spiritual literature was not quite as common ; approximately one tenth read the Bible at least a few times a month and other spiritual literature had only slightly more readers. These numbers have not changed radically over almost a decade, but the tendency is descending.

As a new phenomenon, the practice of meditation has increased, and different forms of meditation are taught within contexts of various convictions. In addition to Christian meditation, there are neo-spiritual forms of meditation practice stemming from other religious backgrounds. Furthermore, there are practices such as mindfulness that are separated from religious frames and are often practised with therapeutical motives. Meditation, both Christian and others, was practised most often by the youngest generations (15-39 years old) despite the gender. Altogether 4% of Finns expressed that Christian meditation is part of their devotional life, and 13% practised another kind of mediation. In comparison to those who did not report meditating, those who meditated more commonly also practised yoga, attended silent retreats, had a place of silencing at home, and attended a pilgrimage.

Source :
Salomäki, Hanna, Hytönen, Maarit, Ketola, Kimmo, Salminen, Veli-Matti & Sohlberg Jussi (2020) Uskonto arjessa ja juhlassa. Suomen evankelis-luterilainen kirkko vuosina 2016-2019. Tampere : Church Research Institute. (Will be published in English by the end of 2021 : Religion in Daily Life and in Celebration. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, 2016-2019.)

Read more :
Ketola, Kimmo & Hytönen, Maarit & Salminen, Veli-Matti & Sohlberg, Jussi & Sorsa, Leena (2018) Socially Engaged Lutheranism. Finnish attitudes to faith and the Church in the light of surveys and statistics. The Church Research Institute, Publications 64. Based on the Church’s four-year report.

D 28 juin 2021    AAnita Sipilä

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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