The Church of Sweden is facing the possibility of losing more than one million of its members within a 10-year period as fewer people are attending services.
The church council of Lima-Transtrand in Vasteras, one of the most affected by the decline in church membership, is now considering selling the parish personage, which is listed as a heritage building, because it “simply can’t afford to make ends meet.”
Local media have described the parish personage as a “unique property which together with the church next door is one of the region’s most picturesque settings.”
A record number of Swedes have left the church in recent years, with 85,848 people signing out in 2016, followed by 93,093 in 2017. The decline has been most noticeable among younger men in big cities.
The dominant reason for the mass exodus from the church has been attributed to the lack of belief in God, according to a survey conducted by pollsters Norstat on behalf of the Swedish Church.
The report indicated that 40 percent of those who left the church cited loss of faith as the main reason, and another 20 percent cited economic motives, while others said that membership no longer felt meaningful.
The mass exodus last year came after a series of high-profile revelations claiming that church officials made expensive trips abroad using money from church coffers. The Local noted that the increased media coverage on the issue may have contributed to the decline in church membership.
The Church also drew controversy last year for its policy of harboring illegal migrants, and abandoning the concept of God as a male entity.
In November, the Church had reportedly voted to adopt a handbook instructing clergy to drop masculine references to God, such as “He” and “Lord,” in an effort to become more “inclusive.”
Following the adoption of the new handbook, the Vasteras Church issued a birth announcement for Jesus in a local newspaper, using the gender-neutral pronoun “hen,” which according to Sputnik News is a cross between “han” and “hon” for “he” and “she” respectively.
Citing the number of withdrawals, declining baptisms and weakening ties to the church, the Norstat report had predicted that church membership would shrink further, unless any changes occur.
Church membership has declined 22 percent from 7.8 million members in 1990 to 6.1 million members today.
Another reason for the decline has been attributed to the church’s separation from the state in 2000. Until 1996, babies baptized in Sweden were automatically given membership unless actively canceled by their parents. Only 45 percent of children are baptized in the Church today, and only 27 percent of 15-year-old Swedes undergo confirmation.