East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 9, No. 3, Summer 2001, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

Lowest Church Attendance Rates in Europe

Kimmo Kääriäinen

Attendance at divine services seemed to be very popular in the former Soviet Union after the [1988 Eastern Slavic Christian] Millennium celebrations, at least judging by the crowded churches. During the first half of the 1990s, the pictures broadcast on TV about Russia's religious life gave the impression of a religious renaissance, as the churches seemed to be too small for the great masses of people who wanted to attend divine services. However, the mass media naturally visited churches where something special was taking place and that were, therefore, packed with people. In fact, if we look at the results of various surveys since the early 1990s we see that attendance at religious services has remained at a very low level. In the surveys between 1991 and 1999 depicted below it is possible to see the changes that have taken place since the last year of the Communist regime.

Percentages of Russian Population in Attendance at Divine Services
At least once a month
Several times a year
Once a year or less

Attending divine services at least once a month is a widely accepted international criterion for regular church attendance. In Russia the rate has remained at a very low level, being one of the lowest in Europe. Since 1991 the number of functioning churches and the number of clergy have notably increased. Furthermore, the percentage of people believing in God has also notably increased. However, none of this seems to have had any influence on the regular attendance of divine services.

It is, however, possible to identify certain changes that indicate that attendance at religious services has slightly increased in Russia in the first half of the 1990s. Firstly, the percentage of Russians who sometimes attend divine services had increased by 1996. Furthermore, the percentage of Russians who never attend divine services had decreased. But it remains true that half of the population (49 percent) never attend religious services.

Kimmo Kääriäinen is professor at the University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.

Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Kimmo Kääriäinen, "Is a Shared Religion Possible in Russia?" in Beyond the Mainstream: The Emergence of Religious Pluralism in Finland, Estonia, and Russia, ed. Jeffrey Kaplan (Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2000), 347-59.

Kimmo Kääriäinen, "Lowest Church Attendance Rates in Europe," East-West Church & Ministry Report 9 (Summer 2001), 10.

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© 2001 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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