Danish church blames recent membership exodus on Atheist campaign

Ateistisk Selskab making it easy for people to deregister from ‘folkekirken’

According to priests in several parishes across Denmark, there has been an increase in the number of people cancelling their membership of the national church (folkekirken) following the launch of an Atheist campaign in March.

Ateistisk Selskab (the Danish Atheist Society), which aims to separate the church and state, has made it very easy for Danes to cancel their automatic membership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and started a nationwide campaign to let people know they can opt out of the national church and save money.

Easy to unregister
Since the campaign’s launch, nearly 3,000 people have taken advantage of the organisation’s service via udmeldelse.dk.

“We are very pleased with the preliminary results,” Anders Stjernholm from Ateistisk Selskab told Kristeligt Dagblad.

While our bus campaign calls for a broad debate about the foundations of faith, the withdrawal campaign targets the many Danes who have long considered leaving folkekirken, but have been putting it off because the process is too cumbersome.”

Priests worried
Priests in several parishes are concerned about the development that challenges the church membership base and the ecclesiastical community.

According to Lena Kjems, a vicar in the Vejlby parish north of Aarhus, some 14 people have deregistered from the church during the first weeks of the campaign, which is far above normal levels.

“We can see that in most cases these are young men aged 18-25, and so we, as a city parish with many students, have been hit especially hard,” Kjems told Kristeligt Dagblad.

“For folkekirken it is difficult to respond, and it shows that the national church is vulnerable to these types of campaigns.”

Time to counteract?
Dean Thomas Frank in Viborg
believes it may be necessary for the national church to come up with a counter campaign.

“We cannot stop Ateistisk Selskab doing what they do, but we can try to constructively draw attention to what it means to opt out from the church in terms of funerals and other things,” Frank told Kristeligt Dagblad.

And we can explain that the church uses the tax money members pay on maintaining cemeteries and churches, organising activities for people of all ages, and much, much more.”

Significant money loss
According to Ateistisk Selskab, Danes pay an average 133,000 kroner in church tax in their lifetime, and the national church receives about 9 billion kroner a year from the state and its members.

The 3,000 recently cancelled memberships will cost the church some 9 million kroner annually.

Last year, the Church Ministry reported 9,979 deregistrations and 6,967 new registrations.