Reaching the Nations

Finland

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

Return to Table of Contents

Geography

Area: 338,145 square km.  Constituting easternmost Scandinavia, Finland borders Russia, Sweden, Norway, and the Baltic Sea.  Tens of thousands of lakes dot the landscape which consists of low elevation plains and small hills.  Due to its northern location, Finland experiences subarctic conditions in the north whereas southern and central areas are subject to cold temperate climate due to the surrounding sea warmed by the North Atlantic Current.  Forest covers most areas.  Environmental issues include pollution and habitat loss.  Finland is divided into 20 administrative regions. 

Population: 5,255,068 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 0.084% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 1.73 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 75.64 male, 82.76 female (2010)

Peoples

Finn: 93.4%

Swede: 5.6%

Russian: 0.5%

Estonian: 0.3%

Roma: 0.1%

Sami: 0.1%

Languages: Finnish (91.2%), Swedish (5.5%), other (3.3%).  Finnish and Swedish are official languages.  Other commonly spoken languages include Russian, Estonian, Roma, and Sami.  Only Finnish has over one million speakers (4.91 million).  

Literacy: 100% (2000)

History

Prehistoric tribes settled Finland several millennia BC.  Sweden ruled Finland between the twelfth and nineteenth centuries.  Starting in 1809, Finland was an autonomous grand duchy under Russia.  In 1917, Finland achieved independence.  During World War II, Finland maintained its independence despite Soviet ambitions to annex Finland yet lost some territory along the Russian border.  Following World War II, Finland experienced rapid economic growth as GDP reached Western Europe levels after only a few decades.  Finland joined the European Union in 1995 and was the first Scandinavian nation to adopt the Euro currency. 

Culture 

A progressive nation with a small population, Finland is well known for architecture, furniture, sculpting, and other visual arts.  There have been many novelists and poets since the nineteenth century.  Opera and music account for an important aspect of local culture and influence many other European nations.  Finland has also been heavily involved in sports and the Olympic Games.  Scenic landscapes provide abundant recreational activity which attracts tourism.[1]  Berries, whole grains, vegetables, and mushrooms heavily influence cuisine.  Cigarette consumption rates rank average among Western European nations and less than the United States whereas alcohol consumption rates are high.  

Economy

GDP per capita: $34,900 (2009) [75.2% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.959

Corruption Index: 8.9

One of the most modern and industrialized nations in the world, Finland has a highly competitive economy which specializes in wood products, metals, electronics, telecommunications, and engineering.  The economy fell into recession as a result of the world financial crisis in the late 2000s.  Long-term economic challenges include the aging population and declining productivity.  Agricultural activity is limited by the climate and employs less than five percent of the workforce.  Barley, wheat, sugar beets, and potatoes are major crops.  Services and industry constitute 66% and 30% of the GDP, respectively.  Primary industries include metals, electronics, shipbuilding, machinery, wood products, and food products.  Major trade partners include Germany, Sweden, Russia, and the Netherlands.  Finland experiences one of the lowest rates of corruption worldwide. 

Faiths

Christian: 84.8%

Other: 0.1%

None: 15.1%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Lutheran Church of Finland  4,335,431

Orthodox  57,806

Pentecostal  45,000

Jehovah's Witnesses  19,047  300

Catholic  9,000  7

Seventh Day Adventists  5,044  73

Latter-Day Saints  4,578  30   

Religion

Most Finns adhere to the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  No non-Lutheran group constitutes over one percent of the population.  The largest minority groups include Orthodox Christians, Pentecostal Christians, and Muslims.  Nearly half a million have left the Lutheran Church over the past several decades.  Finland has become increasingly secular, yet many regard religion as important and value their membership in the Lutheran Church despite not attending religious services regularly.  A 2008 poll found that 73% of 15 to 29 year olds did not identify with a religious group.  Most regard religion as a private matter.[2]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government.  There are two established state churches: The Evangelical Lutheran Church and Orthodox Church.  Those who claim membership in these denominations must pay an additional tax of one to two percent to finance them.  The law allows for individuals to change their religious affiliation and does not permit religious discrimination.  Christian holidays are recognized national holidays.  To register with the government, a religious group must have at least 20 members, have a set of rules, and must publicly practice its beliefs.  Although nontraditional religious groups are not socially accepted, there have been no reports of discrimination.  Proselytism from non-traditional religious groups can be poorly received as religion is seen by many as a private matter.[3]

Largest Cities

Urban: 63%

Helsinki, Espoo, Tampere, Vantaa, Turku, Oulu, Lahti, Kuopio, Jyväskylä, Pori.

All 10 of the largest cities have an LDS congregation.  35% of the national population resides in the 10 largest cities.

LDS History

Missionary work began in the 1870s and the first convert baptism occurred in 1876.  Religious affairs were highly controlled and regulated by the government, resulting in little progress establishing the Church.  Many of the early Finnish converts emigrated to Utah.[4]  Missionary work in the 1800s was primarily limited to Swedish-speaking Finns.  During the first decade of formal missionary work, 25 converts were baptized.  Finland became part of the Swedish Mission in 1905.[5]  Elder Ezra Taft Benson rededicated Finland for missionary work in 1946, and the Finnish Mission was organized in 1947.[6]  When the Finnish Mission opened, only one branch met in the country in Larsmo and there were only a few members.  International Church leadership was impressed with the degree of self-sustainability accomplished by local members and Swedish missionaries. [7]  Seminary began in 1962 and institute classes were started in 1975.  The first stake was created in 1977.  Finland played a unique role in expanding missionary work in the former Soviet Union.  In 1990, the Finland Helsinki East Mission was created to assist in the opening of the former Soviet Union to missionary work.[8]  In 2000, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced a temple for Helsinki which would serve Finland and parts of northern Russia..  That same year, Finland was transferred from the Europe North Area to the Europe Central Area.[9]  An American Latter-day Saint from Arizona was awarded Finland's medal-of-honor for two decades of work for Finland with the Consul of Finland in Arizona and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[10]  7,000 attended a special conference with President Hinckley in 2006.[11]

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 4,578 (2009)

In 1947 there were 129 LDS members.[12]  Church membership stood at 3,500 in 1974.[13]  In 1990, 125 people joined the Church and membership reached 4,200.[14]  There were 4,455 members in 2000, increasing to 4,500 in 2005 and 4,533 in 2007.  Annual membership growth rates have ranged from 0% to 0.66% over the past decade, with the highest growth rate occurring in 2009.  Since 2000, the most membership has increased in one year is 30.  The recent increase in membership growth rates is partially attributed to non-Finnish immigrants joining the Church in larger numbers. In 2009, one in 1,148 people was nominally LDS.

Congregational Growth

Wards: 15  Branches: 15

Five branches functioned in Helsinki by 1974 and five districts operated throughout the country.[15]  The first stake was created in Helsinki in 1977 followed by a second stake in Tampere in 1983.

By 1990, there were 30 congregations, including 11 wards and 19 branches in two stakes, and three districts.[16]  In 1999, there were stakes in Helsinki (seven wards and three branches) and Tampere (six wards and two branches) and districts in Kuopio (five branches), Oulu (four branches), and Pietersaari (three branches).  In 2000, there were 13 wards and 18 branches for a total of 31 congregations.  By 2006, there were 15 wards and 15 branches.  In the mid-2000s, the Kuopio Finland District was discontinued.  In 2010, there were eight wards and two branches in the Helsinki stake, seven wards and two branches in the Tampere stake, four branches in the Oulu district, and four branches in the Pietarssari district. 

Activity and Retention

Strong member activity rates among youth were reported in the early 1990s.  The Tampere Finland Stake had over 50% of its mission-aged young adults serving missions and 70% of the youth were actively attending church.[17]  Around 600 members attended the groundbreaking for the Helsinki Finland Temple in 2003.[18]  During the 2008-2009 school year, 464 participated in seminary or institute.  Between 2000 and 2009, the average number of members per congregation increased from 144 to 153.  Most wards have 75-100 active members and most branches have fewer than 50 attending.  Active members appear to number between 1,500 and 1,800, or 33-40% of total church membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Finnish, Swedish, Russian, Estonian

All LDS scriptures and a wide selection of church materials are translated into Finnish, Swedish, Russian, and Estonian.  Only one Church video and stories from the Doctrine and Covenants are available in Estonian.  The Liahona magazine has 12 issues in Finish, Swedish, and Russian and one in Estonian a year. 

Meetinghouses

In 1974, there were 12 Church-built chapels in Finland.[19]  In 2010, most congregations met in Church-built meetinghouses.

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church has conducted few humanitarian projects in Finland due to high standards of living.  Members have found opportunities for service.  The Tampere Ward Relief Society created over 50 quilts which were donated to maternity hospitals in Russia.[20]  An American youth delivered 1,300 pounds of English-language books to the small Russian border town of Uukuniemi which previously had no foreign language books.[21]

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The Church faces no legal restrictions on proselytism.  Foreign full-time missionaries serve regularly in Finland.  Latter-day Saints appear to be generally respected socially but avoided. 

Cultural Issues

Rapid modernization and secularization has turned religious matters into private affairs.  Member-missionary work among associates and part-member families appears to be the most practical means of overcoming barriers to proselyte the general population overtime.  Most Finns retain respect for religion and belief in God, which provides a foundation of faith from which missionaries and member can build upon.  Finnish members with large families have faced challenges meeting the economic needs of their children due to high cost of living.[22]

National Outreach

With the exception of the Aland Islands, all 20 administrative regions have LDS mission outreach centers.  Many administrative regions contain only one or two congregations, resulting in large although sparsely populated areas of the country without nearby mission outreach.  50% of the national population resides in a city with a mission outreach center.  Approximately 60 cities between 10,000 and 55,000 inhabitants remain without LDS congregations and mission outreach centers.

Over the past six decades, some members have moved to cities and towns without a nearby ward or branch.  Locating less active members in unreached areas and holding cottage meetings with interested individuals may eventually lead to the establishment of additional congregations in underserved areas. 

In 1997, Finland ranked 11th for countries with the most visitors to Church websites.[23]  By 2003, the Church had established an Internet site for Finland at http://www.mormonit.fi .[24]  The website contains a map listing meetinghouse locations, explanations on Church doctrine, contact information for full-time missionaries, and a list of missionary resources in Finnish which can be mailed to interested individuals. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Finland appears to have one of the higher member activity rates for Europe as indicated by the high percentage of members enrolled in seminary or institute and the operation of two stakes and two districts in a nation with fewer than 5,000 members.  Norway and Denmark, which have similar numbers of LDS members, have only one stake and two stakes, respectively, no districts, and over a hundred fewer members enrolled in seminary or institute.  The majority of active members appear to have been members of the Church for several decades.  Success has been mixed at retaining converts in recent years notwithstanding diligent fellowshipping efforts from local members.  Non-Finns have demonstrated higher receptivity but have also experienced greater difficulties with integration due to language barriers and cultural differences.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The increasing number of non-Finn immigrant converts creates challenges integrating into established Finnish-speaking congregations.  Many Finns speak English or a second language proficiently, which can assist the accommodation of immigrant converts.  Few problems have been encountered integrating indigenous non-Finnish ethnic minority groups into predominantly Finnish congregations. 

Language Issues

There is an ample supply of church materials in Finnish despite the small number of LDS members.  The Finnish language is among the most difficult languages for foreign missionaries to master, presenting challenges for foreign missionaries to find and teach effectively.  However, local members assist full-time missionaries with teaching, contributing to greater local self-sufficiency.

There are no language materials in Romani or Sami and very few members who speak these languages.  Church materials are unlikely to be translated into Sami, as there are fewer than 30,000 native speakers of Sami throughout the whole of Scandinavia, and most educated Samis also speak Finnish or Norwegian.  Even the translation of The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony could assist in outreach to this lesser reached ethnic group.  There are millions of Romani speakers throughout Europe who are in great need of LDS missionary outreach materials, but this population may not have language materials for many more years. 

Missionary Service

In 1974, 16 Finns were serving full-time missions.[25]  In 1990, there were 120 missionaries serving in Finland.[26]  In late 2009, there were 55 missionaries serving in Finland divided into two zones.  The full-time missionary force has become increasingly more efficient in the past couple decades as fewer missionaries served in late 2009 but baptized more converts than most years when there were more than twice as many missionaries.  Increases in convert baptisms may be due to greater involvement of local members in teaching and finding investigators as well as increased receptivity of non-Finnish immigrants. 

Leadership

All wards and branches appear to be led by native members.  Finnish members supply enough leadership to staff stakes and to serve as international church leaders in the past.  The Church appears to have adequate Priesthood leadership in the larger wards in the Helsinki area but has challenges filling all leadership positions in the small remote branches due primarily to the lack of members.  In 1990, Kari Juhani Aslak Haikkola from Turku was called as a regional representative.[27]  In 2002, two of the three members of the stake presidency were Church employees.[28]

Temple

Latter-day Saints in Finland have historically had high rates of temple attendance.  Before the completion of the Stockholm Sweden Temple in 1985, members travelled to the Bern Switzerland Temple for several decades.[29]  Members attended faithfully at the time in organized temple trips, performing over 2,100 endowments in 1973.[30]

The Helsinki temple was announced in 2000 and construction started in 2003. President Hinckley noted the day prior to the dedication of the Helsinki Finland Temple in 2006 that he hoped that the interest generated by the new temple would result in greater numbers of convert baptisms.[31]  Prior to the temple dedication, a cultural night was held in which 7,000 members from the new temple district attended.[32]  Over 57,000 attended the temple open house and 10,750 participated in the dedication in Finland.  Many more viewed the proceedings throughout the temple district via satellite broadcast.[33]  The Finland Helsinki Temple District includes Finland, the Russia St. Petersburg Mission, and Estonia.  Due to the small size of Finland LDS membership, endowment sessions and other temple ordinances occur by appointment and must be scheduled beforehand. 

Comparative Growth

Finland is one of the few industrialized European nations with a long-term LDS presence which has seen a slight increase in convert baptisms in recent years, although annual growth rates remain well below one percent.  Most nations with a long-term LDS presence in Northern Europe have experienced no increase or decreases in convert baptisms.  President Hinckley remarked on the slow growth of the Church in Finland in 2006, as over the past 59 years membership had grown to less than 5,000 of Finland's five million inhabitants.[34]  Activity rates are moderate to high for the region.  Finland has one of the highest percentages of members who participate in seminary or institute in Europe at over 10%.  The Helsinki Finland Temple open house experienced one of the largest attendances of any temple open house in proportion to the national LDS population, with nearly thirteen attending for every one LDS member.  Finland is one of the countries with the smallest Latter-day Saint population to have an LDS temple.  The size of LDS membership in Finland is similar to Denmark and Norway, but unlike Finland these nations have seen no increase or a decrease in Latter-day Saints over the past three decades.  The percentage of LDS members in the Finnish population is almost identical to the percentage of LDS members in Sweden and Norway. 

Non-traditional Christian denominations struggle to gain converts.  Seventh Day Adventists have experienced membership decline but a slight increase in congregations over the past decade, whereas Jehovah's Witnesses maintain slow but consistent growth with 300 congregations.  Pentecostals report slow growth.  Other Christian groups have been unable to develop successful outreach to the secular Lutheran majority or among the non-religious youth and young adults. 

Future Prospects

Moderate member activity levels, high rates of seminary and institute attendance,  well developed local leadership, and established church infrastructure provide local strength and self-sufficiency..  Mission outreach centers are established in all the major cities, allowing for continued outreach to half of the population.  The recent reduction in the full-time missionary force has increased the efficiency of missionary activities and encouraged greater member involvement.  However, secularism, low receptivity, and the small number Latter-day Saint youth indicate that prospects for greater long-term growth are limited.  The Church in Finland is likely to continue to experience annual growth rates below 1% for the medium-term future, although the impact of strong LDS membership in Finland will continue to be felt throughout the region for decades to come. 


[1]  "Finland," Wikipedia, retrieved 16 August 2010.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finland

[2]  "Finland," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127309.htm

[3]  "Finland," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127309.htm

[4]  "Retracing steps of Finland pioneers," LDS Church News, 17 May 2008.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/52009/Retracing-steps-of-Finland-pioneers.html

[5]  "Finland," Deseret News 2010 Church News Almanac, p. 480

[6]  "The Saints in Scandinavia," Ensign, Jul 1974, 28

[7]  "Gospel ingrained in the lives and culture of Finnish members," LDS Church News, 27 September 1997.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/29381/Gospel-ingrained-in-the-lives-and-culture-of-Finnish-members.html

[8]  "New mission presidents," LDS Church News, 16 June 1990.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/19692/New-mission-presidents.html

[9]  Lloyd, Scott.  "European continent realigned into three new areas," LDS Church News, 16 September 2000.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/38475/European-continent---realigned-into-three-new-areas.html

[10]  "Finland official honors member for consul service," LDS Church News, 12 May 2001.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/39881/Finland-official-honors-member-for-consul-service.html

[11]  Stahle, Shaun D.  "Make Finland glorious among the nations," LDS Church News, 28 October 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49694/Make-Finland-glorious-among-the-nations.html

[12]  "Finland," Country Profiles, retrieved 17 August 2010.  http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/contact-us/finland

[13]  "The Saints in Scandinavia," Ensign, Jul 1974, 28

[14]  Florence, Giles H. Jr.  "Suomi Finland: A Beacon in the Baltic," Tambuli, Oct 1992, 13

[15]  "The Saints in Scandinavia," Ensign, Jul 1974, 28

[16]  Florence, Giles H. Jr.  "Suomi Finland: A Beacon in the Baltic," Tambuli, Oct 1992, 13

[17]  Florence, Giles H. Jr.  "Suomi Finland: A Beacon in the Baltic," Tambuli, Oct 1992, 13

[18]  Hietala, Kati.  "Finland's temple groundbreaking," LDS Church News, 5 April 2003.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/43478/Finlands-temple-groundbreaking.html

[19]  "The Saints in Scandinavia," Ensign, Jul 1974, 28

[20]  "Blankets warm Finland, Russia relationship," LDS Church News, 19 January 2002.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/41207/Blankets-warm-Finland-Russia-relationship.html

[21]  "Scots enrich tiny Finnish library," LDS Church News, 27 March 2004.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/45277/Scouts-enrich-tiny-Finnish-library.html

[22]  Florence, Giles H. Jr.  "Suomi Finland: A Beacon in the Baltic," Tambuli, Oct 1992, 13

[23]  "Internet users find LDS web site," LDS Church News, 1 March 1997.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/29302/Internet-users-find-LDS-web-site.html

[24]  "Church establishing country-specific Web sites," LDS Church News, 15 November 2003.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/44674/Church-establishing-country-specific-Web-sites.html

[25]  "The Saints in Scandinavia," Ensign, Jul 1974, 28

[26]  Florence, Giles H. Jr.  "Suomi Finland: A Beacon in the Baltic," Tambuli, Oct 1992, 13

[26]  "Internet users find LDS web site," LDS Church News, 1 March 1997. 

[27]  "New regional representatives," LDS Church news, 2 May 1992.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/22553/New-regional-representatives.html

[28]  "New stake presidents," LDS Church News, 9 November 2002.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/42784/New-stake-presidencies.html

[29]  Hietala, Kati.  "Finland's temple groundbreaking," LDS Church News, 5 April 2003.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/43478/Finlands-temple-groundbreaking.html

[30]  "The Saints in Scandinavia," Ensign, Jul 1974, 28

[31]  Stahle, Shaun D.  "Make Finland glorious among the nations," LDS Church News, 28 October 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49694/Make-Finland-glorious-among-the-nations.html

[32]  Stahle, Shaun D.  "Uniquely United," LDS Church News, 28 October 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49692/Uniquely-United.html

[33]  "Helsinki Finland Temple," LDS Church News, 28 October 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49674/Helsinki-Finland-Temple.html

[34]  Stahle, Shaun D.  "Make Finland glorious among the nations," LDS Church News, 28 October 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49694/Make-Finland-glorious-among-the-nations.html