Finland’s Lutheran Evangelical Church has recorded the lowest number of babies being baptised since the institution began tracking the statistics, according to the eastern Finland daily Savon Sanomat.
The paper reported on Friday that the proportion of newborns getting baptised began to fall after 2000, in line with a decline in church membership.
Before 2000, the proportion of newborn babies baptised hovered around 90 percent nationwide. However the percentage has dropped by more than 20 percentage points over nearly 20 years since then.
Researcher Veli-Matti Salminen of the Church Research Institute said that there is a direct link between weaker relations with the church and the fact that people think that church membership is a purely personal matter.
The number of newly-baptised children fell short of the number of church members for the first time in 2014 and has since then fallen faster than church membership. The state-backed Lutheran church also relies on membership contributions collected as a tax on income.
Legal reforms, politics, same-sex marriage test members
Back in 2005, officials attributed an accelerated falloff in church membership to new legislation that allowed people to quit the institution immediately, rather than wait for one month before their resignations took effect.
Officials also speculated that people were less enthusiastic about paying one percent of their annual income in parish taxes to the state-supported church.
There was another spike in departures from the church in 2013, following broad opposition to statements by then-Interior Minister and Christian Democratic Party chair Päivi Räsänen, who spoke of abortion as butchery in a speech and also suggested that the bible could supersede the law of the land.
The church's position on same-sex marriage also tested members’ faith, particularly after parliament passed legislation legalising gender-neutral marriage in Finland.
At the same time, the church also lost members displeased when former Archbishp Kari Mäkinen expressed support for marriage equality in a television interview in 2014.