Christianity has been a presence in Sweden since Ansgar arrived more than 1200 years ago, yet today it is one of the most secular countries on earth. This fact alone doesn’t look good for the church. So what is the state of the church in Sweden?
For around 400 years Sweden was officially a Lutheran country until 2000 when State and church were separated. Before 2000 all Swedes were born into the Church of Sweden and unless they opted out would pay a church tax all through their adult life. In 2000 82.9% of Swedes were members of the church and the Church in Sweden was phenomenally well off. To its credit the church is a significant aid donor and its international justice & advocacy work seems to be very good. We’re for justice.
From 2000 though, new Swedes were not automatically a part of the church and had instead to opt in. The numbers choosing to do so fell dramatically. By 2010 that number had dropped to 67.5%, as Swedes died off, left the church and no longer opted in. That number continues to free fall and shows no sign of slowing down. Only around 2% of its members are in church on any given Sunday.
The Church of Sweden is well-known for it’s mainly liberal positions on pretty much everything from ordaining the first lesbian bishop to archbishops happy to say that Jesus is not the only way. There are few churches that in their theology are as inclusive as the Church of Sweden. The irony is that no one wants to join.
There is a small but active evangelical wing of the Lutheran Church, hoping against hope for a fresh reformation.
So much for the Lutherans, but what of the rest?
Again the big picture is not particularly encouraging. In the face of significant decline the Methodists, the Baptists and the Mission Covenant Church recently merged to form Equmeniakyrkan now the second largest group after the Lutherans. So instead of being three denominations facing decline, it is now one large denomination facing decline. To its credit, despite some of the obvious theological issues posed by merging Baptists, free Lutherans and methodists, equmeniakyrkan is attempting to refocus its energies into mission and church planting.
The Pentecostals are occasionally pentecostal but is discovering a fresh emphasis on church planting and church renewal such as the United movement. There is an evangelical free church movement that has a desire to plant churches and the New Wine movement has some influence. Amongst new church movements there is presence without much impact. Vineyard are here, Salt & Light are here and that’s about it. There is also a growing interest in simple or organic church. Some good things seem to be happening. There are also a few individual churches that have stand out, Livets Ord in Uppsala, and Filadelfia in Stockholm for example. Hillsongs is making some noise in Stockholm.
The reality is that even added all together it doesn’t add up to very much, maybe 1 or 2% of the population. It’s not all bad; there are good churches, there are good initiatives, there are good and faithful people preaching the gospel. There simply isn’t enough of any of them, anywhere.