State church loses 15,000 followers in four days as online registration system prompts exodus

Leading Bishop at Norwegian institution says departures were expected, but vows to 'take signals seriously'

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The Independent Online

Norway's state chuch lost more than 15,000 followers in four days after launching an online registration system allowing people to opt in or out.

The Lutheran Church is the country's largest, with nearly three-quarters of the population registered as members.

It set up the new service in an effort to get its heavily criticised records in shape and offer an easy way for people to sign up.

But officials revealed that many instead used the new process to do the opposite, with 10,854 people de-enrolling from the church in the 24 hours after the launch of the website on 15 August. A total of 15,053 left within four days.

The leading Bishop of the Norwegian churches, Helga Haugland Byfuglien, said: “We were prepared for a significant number of resignations and have great respect for the individual's choice.

“These signals we take seriously. Our task will be to pass on the Christian message and to convey the important role the church can have in people's lives.”

During the first four days, 1,369 people also took the opportunity to register as members, and Church Council leader Kristin Gunleiksrud Raaum insisted the self-registration system was a good thing.

“We will continue to have a broad and open national church. But no one should be a member of a religious community against their will, and therefore I am glad that this self-solution is in place.

“Those who mistakenly listed as a member of the Norwegian Church or who do not wish to be members can now easily change their status, and it will give us a more accurate registry,” she said.

Despite the exodus, more than 3.8 million people remain members of the Norwegian Church, and they say anyone who is baptised is welcome to join.