New Data Indicates Waning Church Membership

religion in iceland

The National Registry of Iceland has released new data on religious affiliation in Iceland, with membership in the National Church below 60% for the first time ever.

The National Church remains the largest congregation by far, with some 228,000 Icelanders registered. However, the church has lost around 900 congregants since December of last year, corresponding to a larger trend in which the church has lost around 5% of its membership in the last three years.

The next-largest congregation is the Catholic Church, with some 14,000 registered individuals. Other major denominations include the Free Churches of Reykjavík and Hafnafjörður, which are both Protestant congregations not affiliated with the National Church.

There are currently some 60 registered religious and philosophical societies in Iceland. Notably, the Jewish community in Iceland was registered for the first time last year, a part of the broader shift in demographics and religiosity in Iceland.

The report also records a new record for individuals not affiliated with any religious organization, 7.8%, representing 29,000 Icelanders.

The Ásatrúarfélag, the association for Norse paganism, has also experienced growth in the last few years. It is now the fifth-largest religious organization in Iceland, with around 5,500 members.



Membership in National Church of Iceland Gradually Declining

New data published by Registers Iceland shows that registered membership in the National Church of Iceland continues to decline, albeit slowly. Meanwhile, the pagan Ásatrú Fellowship and the Ethical Humanist Association have both been quietly gaining members.

As of September 1, there were 229,714 people registered as members of Iceland’s National (Lutheran) Church. This is a decline of three members since December 1. And while this is not a dramatic decrease in membership, it does appear to be part of a consistent pattern. From December 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021, the church lost 75 members from its registry.

The Catholic Church has the second-highest membership, or 14,709 members. Fríkirkjan, the independent Lutheran Church of Iceland, which operates apart from the national church, comes in third with 10,040 members. The Ásatrú Fellowship and the Ethical Humanist Association had the greatest jump in membership—279 new members. (Statistics Iceland shows a total of 5,118 members of Ásatrú and 4,084 members of the Ethical Humanist Association as of January 1, 2021, but the current National Registers round-up offered no more specific, recent data regarding total membership in either organization.)

As of September 1, there were 28,926 people (7.7% of the population) registered as not being part of any religious organization. There were additionally 58,514 people listed as ‘Other and Not Specified,’ or 15.7% of the nation.


Norse Pagan Fellowship Considers Crowdfunding Temple Completion

Iceland’s Ásatrú Fellowship is currently constructing its first and only Norse temple in Öskjuhlíð, but construction costs have already exceeded the budget set for the project, Fréttablaðið reports. The religious organisation is now considering crowdfunding part of the money needed to finish the job.

The Ásatrú Fellowship is Iceland’s official Norse religion organisation. Despite being founded in 1972, the fellowship has never had an official temple to house its operation, until now. The original budget for the temple was 127 million ISK, a number they’ve already exceeded with the temple half-built. They now estimate that the temple will cost 270 million ISK to complete.

“We’ve had so many people contact us asking if they can support us in any way,” says musician and fellowship’s Allsherjargoði, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson. “We’ve been trying to find a way to do this without begging, but instead work out a deal where our supporters will get something in return.” The fellowship is currently considering working through crowdfunding sites like Karolina Fund to raise at least 18 million ISK in donations.

“We’re considering all options. We want to do this with a certain amount of dignity,” the Allsherjargoði adds.

At the fellowship’s official Lögrétta meeting last December, it was revealed that the financial situation of the fellowship is much better than it has been in previous months, making it possible for the fellowship to pay bills and temple-building costs without hurting their day to day operations. This, says Hilmar, is possible in part due to donations from benefactors.

“We haven’t been forced to take out a bank loan yet and we want to see what we can pay for by ourselves and with this crowdfunding initiative. The original idea was to do this without getting ourselves into debt, and we’re still persevering.”

Hilmar says the most optimistic prediction for a date of temple completion is in December 2019, but he’s hoping parts of the temple will be able to host the fellowship operations earlier than that, possibly in the fall.

Icelanders’ Religious Affiliation Diversifies

The number of Icelanders registered as members of the National Church has gone down in the last twelve months, while there has been an increase in followers of Ethical Humanism, Ásatrú, and Islam. This according to the most recent data Icelanders’ religious affiliation, which was recently released by the country’s national register.

Iceland’s National (Lutheran) Church has seen a decrease in membership of just around 1%, or 2,419 people. The highest increases have been for the Catholic church (up by 512 registrants; an increase of 3.8%) and The Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association (up by 536, or 23.5%). Around 400 people officially joined Ásatrú, a Norse pagan religion, which is an increase of 9.9%.

The largest increase was among registered Muslims in Iceland. This year, there was an 122.1% increase, or 105 newly registered members, for a total of 191.

The largest decrease was seen among followers of Zuism, an ancient Sumerian religion, which went down by 306 members, or 15.8%.

There was also an overall increase among those who wanted to officially register as unaffiliated with any religious or philosophical organization. There was an increase of 2,221 people in this category, or 9.9%.