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Church looks for new members on Facebook

Finland's established church is now seeking to match a popular online resignation service by allowing new members to sign up online and even via Facebook.

Graphic.
The number of resignations has exploded since an online resignation service opened in 2003. Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

In 2003 the online service eroakirkosta.fi made it much easier for members of Finland's Evangelical Lutheran Church to resign. Resignation enables people to avoid paying the church tax, a parish-dependent income tax collected from wages by Finland's Tax administration on behalf of the church.

Since then some 350,000 people have used the website to resign from the church, causing funding difficulties for Finland's national church. Now the church is fighting back with an online form available on social media that allows new members to sign up quickly and painlessly.

Between 2004-2012 the church lost members at a rate of four for each new believer joining its ranks. The church faces a big challenge ahead if it is to stabilise membership levels. The most successful region in retaining church members has been South Ostrobothnia, which has lost three members for each new signup.

Comments on homosexuality caused resignations

The church in Uusimaa has lost the largest number of members, but has also gained more people as a result of internal migration. Its rate of decline is therefore below the national average.

In 2010 alone more than 80,000 people left the church, while in 2009 and 2011 the number of departees was lower than 50,000.

The difference, as shown by statistics from eroakirkosta.fi, was a huge spike in October 2010. The spike coincided with an Yle discussion programme on homosexuality broadcast on 12 October that included outspoken comments from Christian Democrat leader Päivi Räsänen on gay rights.

The church has begun to respond more quickly to such controversies. When faith healer Pirkko Jalovaara criticised modern medical science in favour of faith-based remedies on an Yle programme last month, bishops were quick to distance themselves from her comments.

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