It’s reasonably well-known that Sweden is one of the most agnostic or atheistic countries on the planet. Their lack of interest in all things related to the church is famous. Couple that with their generally ordered, well-run, democratic and prosperous society and Sweden has become the poster-country for secular people everywhere.
But was Sweden ever really Christian? If we mean did Sweden have an official state religion then the answer is yes – Sweden had a state religion and a state church for centuries right up until 2000. If by Christian we mean a significant proportion of the population practising that religion, then the answer may well be ‘no’.
In fact the lack of engagement in the church has been very low for at least a century now and the decline likely started long before.
Statistical data on levels of church attendance before the 1960s is fragmentary, but what there is suggests that the low levels of religious participation recorded later in the century were not so new. Clergy returns for Denmark, even excluding the metropolis of Copenhagen, where levels of church attendance were known to be exceptionally low, recorded that only about 8 percent of Danes attended Lutheran services on “an average Sunday” in the 1930s, falling to 6 percent in the 1940s, 5 percent in the 1950s, and 4 percent in the 1960s…In Sweden in 1927 it is estimated that only 5.6 percent attended a Lutheran church on a normal Sunday; by the 1950s it was under three percent.
How early were the Nordic countries secular?
So nearly 100 years ago and less than 6% attended the State Church plus maybe another 3% among the other denominations. Christianity in Sweden then may have been the religion of the educated and the nobility but never really the faith of the people. Perhaps it’s a case of a mile wide and an inch deep.
What seems to be the case is that the Swedish people have been disengaged from church and the message of the Gospel for a long, long time. What is sad today, is that even if they went to a church they still may not hear the Gospel.