“It’s not very high,” Jonas Bromander, an analyst with the Church of Sweden who was responsible for the study, told The Local in reference to the figure.
“It’s not really a problem; rather, it’s a byproduct of the secularisation in Swedish society which has taken place over many years.”
More than 10,000 members of the Swedish Church participated in a comprehensive membership survey carried out over the past year and dubbed “Member 2010” (Medlem 2010).
According to the survey, 15 percent of church members they are atheists, while a quarter of Swedish Church members identify themselves as agnostic.
The younger the members, the more likely they are to be atheists or agnostics.
Bromander pointed out that there is no requirement that church members believe in Jesus or any particular religious figure.
“Many are members, not for religious reasons, but because of the role the church plays in society, or because it serves as an organisation which maintains Swedish traditions,” said Bromander.
“In fact, there are many members who would rather that we focus more on our social work in Sweden than on Sunday services.”
Of the roughly 6.6 million members of the Church of Sweden, about 400,000 are active churchgoers, attending services at least once a month.
According to the survey, 90 percent of church members have a weak relationship with the Swedish Church, forcing the church to ponder whether or not it remains a relevant institution in Swedish society.
The purpose of the study was to learn more about what sort of expectations people have for the church and to see how the church “can be relevant to people’s lives in contemporary society”.
Most said they are members in the Swedish Church because they are “have a little faith, because the church does good work in society, and stands for important traditions, at the same time thinking that the church isn’t especially relevant for them personally”.
The study also revealed that members who have gone through the confirmation process are more likely to see church membership as relevant.
“Therefore, there is reason to take the continued drop in the number being confirmed with the utmost seriousnees.”
Most members remain positive about the church, but the authors of the report note that those who have the greatest need for “hope, comfort, and open doors” don’t appear to view the Swedish Church as giving them as much as it gives those who are happy with their lives.
According to the study, if the church succeeds in providing assistance to the poor, elderly, and other marginalised groups, it can expect its members to view belonging to the church as more valuable.
“For many the church is a religious organisation and they want it to be one, even if they don’t believe in Jesus themselves,” said Bromander, adding that members see their membership as a way to support what the church does.
Until 1996, Swedes automatically became members of the church at birth if at least one parent was a member.
Members are obliged to pay just under 1 percent of their annual income in church tax.
Until 2000, the Church of Sweden was an official state church.
Bromander said the figures indicate that the church may face a challenge in balancing the needs of faithful and secular members.
“That will be something for church officials to discuss,” he said.
“There is a risk of an increasing divide between those who are more engaged and those who aren’t engaged.”