Between November 2008 and October 2009, nearly 72,000 people, or roughly 1 percent of the church’s 6.8 million members, asked to leave, according to church statistics reviewed by the TT news agency.
The number of people abandoning Sweden’s largest church is roughly 20,000 more than the previous year.
Church of Sweden spokesperson Henrik Pederby was unable to point to any specific reason why more people are leaving the church.
“Previously, the drop leveled off, after withdrawals reached a peak in 2004. Now it’s increasing again. We interpret that as indicating that the figures are being affected by some general situation in society. It could be economic reasons which cause someone to leave the church,” he told TT.
Members of the Church of Sweden are obliged to pay just under 1 percent of their annual income in church tax. In 2008, 6.8 million Swedes, or 73 percent of the population, were officially members. Until 1996, Swedes automatically became members of the church at birth if at least one parent was a member.
The decision by the church to allow homosexual couples to be wed in Swedish churches doesn’t appear to have any effect on church membership, according to Pederby.
“The marriage decision had no effect whatsoever,” he said.
At the same time, however, the total number of members in other faith communities increased somewhat, according to figures from the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities (Nämnden för statligt stöd till trossamfund – SST).
A total of 761,538 people now belong to faith groups other than the Church of Sweden, a 1 percent increase from the 753,952 people registered in 2007.
The faith communities which registered increases include Islamic assemblies, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Orthodox and Assyrian Churches.
SST point out, however, that there is uncertainty about figures for many of the parishes.
Meanwhile, the Pentecostal movement, which has 121,545 members and the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden (115,999 members) have both lost members, with most dioceses reporting a roughly 1 percent drop in membership.
In addition, 6,441 people, or 0.26 percent, have sought to join the Church of Sweden in the last year.