Country reports on the LDS Church around the world from a landmark almanac. Includes detailed analysis of history, context, culture, needs, challenges and opportunities for church growth.
By David Stewart and Matt Martinich
Area: 323,802 square km. Stretching the western coast of Scandinavia, Norway borders Finland, Sweden, Russia, and the Norwegian Sea. Svalbard, an archipelago north of the Arctic Circle, is under Norwegian administration. The terrain of Norway is mostly mountainous with fertile valleys. Coastal areas are rugged and bisected with fjords as a result of past glaciations. Far northern areas consist of tundra, whereas other areas tend to be forested wetlands. Coastal areas experience a wet temperate climate due to the North Atlantic Current; interior areas tend to be cooler and wetter. Rockslides and avalanches are natural hazards. Environmental issues include water pollution, acid rain, and air pollution. Norway is divided into 19 administrative counties.
Population: 4,660,539 (July 2010)
Annual Growth Rate: 0.341% (2010)
Fertility Rate: 1.77 children born per woman (2010)
Life Expectancy: 77.29 male, 82.74 female (2010)
Other European: 3.6%
Languages: Norwegian (99.5%), Sami (0.3%), Finnish (0.1%), Romani (0.1%). Norwegian is the official language and only language with over one million speakers (4.64 million). Sami has official status in six municipalities.
The Vikings originated in Norway during the Middle Ages and launchedraids into Britain and Europe, although only about 1% of the Scandinavian population participated in Viking raiding parties. To the east, Scandinavian Vikings called Varangians raided the Baltic coast and became established at Novgorod in what is now Russia in 862 AD and from there sailed down the Dniepr to Kiev (now Ukraine), establishing the foundation of Kievan Rus through intermixture with local Slavs. . Viking seafarers explored the North Atlantic Ocean, establishing colonies in Iceland and Greenland around AD 1000, reaching as far as Newfoundland but not establishing a permanent presence in these distant areas. Following the adoption of Christianity by King Olav Tryggvason in 994, Viking raids and aggression declined. In the late fourteenth century, Norway formed a union with Denmark which lasted over four centuries. In 1814, Norwegians opposed a Swedish takeover which resulted in an invasion by the Swedes. Although some autonomy was granted to Norway during the nineteenth century, total independence did not occur until 1905. Norway was neutral in both world wars, although in World War II Nazi Germany occupied Norway for five years. Following the war, Norway joined NATO in 1949 after heavy costs were incurred during both world wars notwithstanding neutrality. Oil and natural gas discovery and exploitation in the latter half of the twentieth century have fueled economic growth and modernization. Norway remains one of the few European nations with an advanced economy that has not joined the European Union.
Norway has a proud heritage of music, literature, architecture, and art which has retained romanticism tradition. Norwegian literature begins in the Viking age through skaldic poetry and history, reaching its height in the nineteenth century. Edvard Grieg was a famous Norwegian composer who influenced romanticism through classical music in Europe in the late nineteenth century. Painters such as Edvard Munch produced expressionist style works. Common farm and sea foods such as fish, bread, and cheese dominate cuisine as agriculture continues to be a major traditional influence despite Norway's modernized economy. Cigarette and alcohol consumption rates rank lower than most European nations. Although most are nominally Christian, secularism is widespread. Norway has long been tolerant of alternative lifestyles and legalized same-sex marriage in 2009.
GDP per capita: $57,400 (2009) [124% of US]
Human Development Index: 0.971
Corruption Index: 8.6
Diversification of the economy has occurred in recent years, yet dependence on oil and natural gas revenues for economic growth and stability is a concern. The price and demand for oil drive economic growth rates. Petroleum generates 30% of revenue and about half of total exports. The government has been preparing for the eventual exhaustion of petroleum reserves by saving oil profits in a sovereign wealth fund. Abundant natural resources including large mineral deposits, hydropower, fish, and timber offer potential for long term growth and economic development,. Services account for 76% of the labor force and generate 58% of the GDP whereas industry accounts for 21% of the labor force and generates 40% of the GDP. Agriculture constitutes less than 10% of the labor and GDP. Primary crops include barley, wheat, and potatoes. Pork, beef, and fish are also major agricultural products. Major industries include oil, natural gas, food processing, tree products, shipbuilding, mining, and fishing. Primary trade partners include Germany, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. Norway ranks among countries with the lowest levels of perceived corruption.
Denominations Members Congregations
Lutheran Church of Norway 3,994,082
Seventh Day Adventists 4,612 65
Latter-Day Saints 4,206 23
Jehovah's Witnesses 10,659 167
Norwegian citizens are assumed to be members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway unless they explicitly report belonging to a different religious group. 82% of the population is estimated to be Lutheran although church attendance is low. Other Protestants number 166,000 and Catholics total 54,000. The Muslim population is 84,000 but rising rapidly due to immigration and much higher birth rates among Muslims than ethnic Norwegians. Most religious minorities live in the Oslo metropolitan area and are recent immigrants.
The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway receives some benefits not available to other religious groups. The constitution requires that the King and at least 50% of the cabinet claim membership in the Church of Norway. Religious groups do not have to register to operate in Norway. All religious groups which register with the government are entitled to state funds in proportion to the number of adherents. Religious education in public schools is mandatory and teaches all major world religious traditions in a respectful manner but emphases on Christianity. There has been increasing debate regarding the treatment of Muslims as relating to religious clothing and cultural accommodations. There have been few reports of societal discrimination or abuse of religious freedom. Missionaries may serve on regular foreign work visas.
Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger, Bærum, Kristiansand, Fredrikstad, Tromsø, Sandnes, Drammen.
All 10 of the largest cities have an LDS congregation. 34% of the national population resides in the 10 largest cities.
One of the first Norwegian Latter-day Saint converts, Svend Larsen, was introduced to the Church in Denmark while delivering timber. He and another recent convert began missionary activity in Norway in 1851 and the first baptism occurred before the end of the year. In 1852, the first two congregations were created. LDS missionaries were frequently arrested and imprisoned when they first preached in Norway. Slow and steady growth occurred for the latter half of the nineteenth century and first several decades of the twentieth century. Former shipbuilding Norwegian converts who immigrated to Utah participated in the construction of the Manti Utah Temple, designing the roof as a watertight upside down ship. Norwegian Latter-day Saints in Utah introduced skiing as a recreational sport and influenced the future ski industry in the area. The Norwegian Mission was created in 1920 from the Scandinavian Mission. 8,555 individuals joined the Church prior to 1930, 3,500 of whom emigrated to Utah. Missionaries were evacuated from Norway at the beginning of World War II. During the first century of missionary activity, native members and missionaries utilized Danish translations of Latter-day Saint scriptures. The Book of Mormon was not translated into Norwegian until 1950. Seminary and institute were introduced by 1975. In the 1980s, 30 local members were called as missionaries in the Norway Oslo Mission to assist the full-time missionary force. In 1988, the Church became registered with the government for the first time.
In 1990, President Thomas S. Monsoon addressed the Norwegian community in Salt Lake City, urging them to preserve their Norwegian traditions. Prior to 2000, Norway belonged to the Europe North Area and then became part of the Europe Central Area. In 2010, Norway was assigned to the Europe Area. In 2001, Church members in Scandinavia commemorated the emigration of converts 150 years ago to Utah by crossing the Atlantic in four sailing ships from Europe to the United States. In 2003, Norway became one of the first eight countries to receive its own national LDS website. The Church observed the Norwegian centennial in 2005 and noted that 60,000 Utahns on the 2000 census declared their ancestry to be from Norway, largely due immigration from early LDS converts.
LDS Membership: 4,206 (2009)
During the 2000s, slow membership growth occurred. Membership increased to 4,102 in 2002, 4,134 in 2005, and 4,164 in 2008. Several years experienced slight membership decline, such as 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2006. Membership typically fluctuates between 10 and 30 members a year, or -1% to 1%. Convert baptisms have slightly increased in recent years from 48 in 2008 to 60 in 2009. Membership increase has been smaller than the number of convert baptisms due to very low birthrates among Norwegian members, member attrition, and emigration. Non-Norwegian immigrants living primarily in Oslo and other large cities have constituted a large proportion of LDS converts since the 1990s. Notwithstanding some annual variation, LDS membership in Norway has experienced cumulative growth of less than 1% per year for the past four decades, decelerating to less than 0.5% annual growth over the decade of the 2000s. When national population growth is considered, the percentage of LDS members in the Norwegian population has remained stagnant since the 1970s. In 2009, one in 1,109 was nominally LDS.
Wards: 7 Branches: 16
In 2000, there were seven wards and 17 branches organized into one stake (Oslo Norway Stake [seven wards, two branches]) and three districts (Stavanger [six branches], Tromsoe [four branches], and Trondheim [five branches] Norway Districts). By the mid-2000s all three districts were discontinued and all the branches in the former districts became mission branches. The Church discontinued one branch in 2004 and another branch in 2007 (the Kristiansund and Levanger Branches). In late 2009, a mission branch was created for the Norway Oslo Mission to administer groups in isolated locations with too few members to create independent branches. In 2010, the Oslo Norway Stake had seven wards and two branches.
In early 2010, the Norway Oslo Mission withdrew most of its missionary force from northern areas and relocated missionaries to the Oslo area in an effort to proselyte areas with more receptive populations and help prepare branches to mature into wards so that a second stake could be organized.
Activity and Retention
The ratio of LDS members to congregations has slightly increased over the past decade from 169 in 2000 to 183 in 2009, although this at least in part reflects consolidations that have left some members without nearby congregations. Regional church conferences have been well attended by Norwegian Latter-day Saints. Over 4,000 members from the Nordic countries gathered in 1974 for a special regional conference in Stockholm, Sweden with Church President Spencer W. Kimball. 306 were enrolled in seminary or institute during the 2008-2009 school year.
The number of active members widely varies based on location, with larger congregations located in the Oslo area. Full-time missionaries were removed from Trondheim due to low productivity but were reintroduced in 2010. Following the reintroduction of the missionaries, Trondheim had nine convert baptisms in six months and active membership increased from 30 to 55. There are few active members in the branches of northern Norway. In 1991, the largest branch was the Harstad/Narvik Branch with 43 members. Many of the branches at this time had fewer than 15 active members. The Arendal Branch had around 25 active members in 2010. The Drammen Ward and another ward in the Oslo area had over 175 active members in 2010. Other wards appear to have around 100 active members. In 2009, 120 of the 400 members in the Bergen Branch attended church regularly, there were 40 active members in the Kristiansand Branch, and 30 of the 100 members in the Tønsberg Branch were active, including 10 Priesthood holders. Total active membership in Norway is estimated at 1,500, or 35% of total membership.
Languages with LDS Scripture: Norwegian, Finnish, English
All LDS scriptures and most church materials are available in Norwegian and Finnish, including many CES manuals.
Trondheim has one of the oldest church meetinghouses. In 2010, congregations met in at least 20 locations. Most congregations met in church-built meetinghouses. Some smaller branches met in renovated buildings or rented spaces.
Humanitarian and Development Work
Latter-day Saints have not conducted large humanitarian or development projects in Norway in recent years due to the lack of natural disasters and high standards of living. Service activities are limited to missionaries performing weekly service hour assignments and service projects organized on a congregational level.
Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects
The Church faces no restrictions or limitations to its activities in Norway. Missionaries proselyte freely and members worship openly.
Secularism, nominalism in the Lutheran Church, and misinformation about Latter-day Saints have impeded Norwegians' receptivity to the LDS Church. Secularism is the greatest cultural barrier which LDS missionaries face on a daily basis as many Norwegians are disinterested in religion. Missionaries have remarked that many Norwegians feel that they no longer need religion and have all their material needs and desires due to economic prosperity and socialism. Nominalism in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway is a challenge as most do not attend church regularly yet continue to identify as Lutheran. However, many have a basic knowledge of Christianity which can assist efforts to build on common Christian principles. Some Norwegian theologians and scholars have written negative accounts or propagated misinformation about the LDS Church that have contributed to the anxiety many feel towards the Church and its members.
With a population of less than five million and one LDS mission, Norway experiences good national outreach which has been sustained for over forty years, although outreach has contracted somewhat in recent years due to low receptivity and limited missionary manpower. All cities with over 45,000 inhabitants have a mission outreach center. Of the 19 administrative counties, three have no mission outreach centers (Nord-Trondelag, Oppland, and Sogn Og Fjordane) and a combined population of 420,000 (nine percent of the national population). Nine counties have only one LDS congregation. 48% of the national population resides in cities with a mission outreach center. Nine percent of the population resides in cities between 10,000 and 45,000 inhabitants without a mission outreach center.
The Church has opportunities to expand national outreach in Norway and assist missionary work in foreign nations through proselytism efforts in cities with large universities. Despite being Norway's third largest city with 170,000 inhabitants, Trondheim has only one branch. Trondheim offers significant opportunity for mission outreach targeting young adults as it is home to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, one of Norway's largest universities. The Church responded to this opportunity in 2010 by placing eight full-time missionaries in Trondheim, including two sister missionaries and a senior missionary couple. These efforts appear to have been productive, as 12 investigators attended church in Trondheim in August 2010. However, they extract a significant portion of the total full-time missionary force (nearly 20%) for just one city. Oslo also offers meaningful university-student outreach. Greater involvement from local members in reaching college-aged population would help increase mission efficiency.
There are opportunities to establish additional congregations in unreached cities. Several of these cities may already have groups or dependent branches under the Norway Oslo Mission Branch created at the end of 2009. Holding cottage meetings with the few active members of investigators can assist in the proselytism of the half of the Norwegian population without close access to an LDS congregation.
The Church maintains an Internet site in Norwegian for Norway at http://www.jesukristikirke.no/. Current news, meetinghouse locations, contact information, and information regarding church programs and beliefs are provided. Use of the website by local members and missionaries can help broaden the scope of mission outreach and provide opportunity for interested individuals to seek out the Church and obtain correct information.
Member Activity and Convert Retention
Some branches, particularly in northern Norway, have experienced declining numbers of active members due to the desire of some members to move to areas with larger LDS congregations for greater social opportunities. Secularism is a cultural influence which appears to have lowered member activity rates in some areas. Missionaries generally provide adequate pre-baptismal teaching and coordinate with local members, which has resulted in modest to higher than average convert retention rates for the region. Many new Norwegian converts appear to be committed and devoted to the church prior to baptism. However many converts come from Africa; a region which has inherently higher percentages of religiously active individuals than Scandinavia. There appears to have been no meaningful increase in active membership nationwide over the past decade.
Ethnic Issues and Integration
Missionaries frequently meet with foreigners from Africa, continental Europe, and Latin America. These groups have shown greater receptivity to Latter-day Saint outreach than Norwegians but are difficult to fellowship and retain due to culture and language barriers, and are often transient as many return to their home countries.
A large body of LDS Church materials is translated into Norwegian. Over 99% of the national population has church materials in their native language. To meet the language needs of non-Norwegians, missionaries in Trondheim reported in 2010 that they sometimes carried English, French, Chinese, and German proselytism materials. Higher receptivity among non-natives results in an overrepresentation of foreigners in LDS congregations and can create language issues for both Norwegians and foreigners.
In 2010, there were 50 missionaries serving in the Norway Oslo Mission divided into three zones. Norway relies on foreign missionaries to staff its mission force and has few active youth in many areas. The number of missionaries serving has been cut to less than half the leve of the 1990s due to low receptivity, limited missionary manpower, and more pressing opportunities elsewhere. Youth-oriented missionary outreach, missionary preparation classes, and member-missionary initiatives may assist Norway to become more self reliant in its missionary endeavors, but it appears unlikely that self-sufficiency will occur anytime soon due to the small numbers of active LDS youth and long history of non-growth or minimal growth notwithstanding intensive proselytism.
Although the number of active Priesthood holders appears to be unable to support districts or additional stakes for the 13 mission branches, most congregations have at least a few active Priesthood holders as nearly all branches are led by a native branch president and other local leaders. Increasing the number of active priesthood holders as well as overall active membership are major areas of focus for current church leaders in Norway.
Several Norwegian members have served in international church leadership positions. Jan T. Tveten was born in Norway, emigrated to the United States, and was called as the Norway Oslo Mission president in 1999. Stein Pedersen from Skjetten served as an Area Authority prior to 2000. In 2005, Elvind Sterri from Asker was called as an Area Authority and Jan Karlsson from Oslo was called as the Sweden Stockholm Mission president.
Norway is assigned to the Stockholm Sweden Temple district. Attending the temple regularly can be challenging and requires planning and sacrifice, but is feasible for many. Local members desire a temple for their own country one day, but a prospective temple district of only one stake and no districts indicates that a temple is not likely to be built in Norway until greater member activity and growth can sustain one. The Stockholm Sweden Temple appears well attended by members in Norway, Sweden, and Latvia despite a temple district of only four stakes and two districts as endowment sessions are scheduled almost every hour for much of the day from Tuesday through Friday. Temple sessions are held in Norwegian when members travel as a stake or congregation.
The percentage of Latter-day Saints in the population in Norway is representative of other Scandinavia countries in which members constitute around 0.1% of the national population. The only European nations with a higher percentage of members are Switzerland, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Portugal. Member activity rates compare to other Scandinavian nations and are average to higher than much of Europe. Non-growth or consolidation of congregationsis also representative for the region. Norway has had one of the longest continual Church presences in Europe. Denmark and Finland have comparable LDS membership numbers to Norway, yet both have two stakes and Finland also supports two districts. Both Finland and Denmark also enroll greater numbers of seminary and institute students. These factors may indicate lower member activity and participation in Norway compared to Finland and Denmark. National outreach in Norway by Latter-day Saints is among the most penetrating in Europe as few European countries have congregations established in areas accounting for half the national population; Norway has experienced this level of outreach for over forty years.
Christian groups report slow church growth in Norway. Jehovah's Witnesses achieve slow growth but have made steady progress and report 167 congregations.. Seventh Day Adventists generally had 50 new converts a year in Norway, but have experienced membership and congregation declines over the past decade (500 fewer members and eight less congregations). Many Christian groups struggle to develop proselytism approaches tailored to address secularism and nominalism in the Lutheran Church, although Jehovah's Witnesses have been by far the most successful.
The Church has established congregations in most areas and has the basic infrastructure to meet outreach needs in most areas, but secularism remains a cultural influence which has reduced receptivity. The missionary complement assigned to Norway has been cut to less than half its prior levels without noticeably affecting growth. The Church depends heavily on the larger LDS populations in the Oslo area to stabilize the national church population and looks to this region for future growth. Many members in small branches are considering moving to the Oslo area which over time may lead to additional consolidations of smaller branches in northern Norway. The heavy emigration of Latter-day Saints in the nineteenth century has continued although at a slower rate in recent years and has made local growth harder to achieve. Outreach directed toward youth is needed due to low birth rates among Latter-day Saints and the small number of youth converts in order to ensure long term growth.
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