Lutheran church feeling pinch of desertions

An unprecedented run on membership over the past few years has drained the finances of the Finnish Lutheran Evangelical church. The Church has had to give up 300 properties annually across the country. Financial planners believe that jobs may be next on the chopping block as the church attempts to trim costs.

According to church financial planner Pasi Perander the Finnish Lutheran Evangelical Church is being riven by a financial crunch the likes of which it has never before experienced. Perander added that the church has been hit hard by the ongoing economic slump and the drastic drop in revenues caused by a steadily declining membership.

“The weakening of tax incomes and the growth in costs associated with personnel as well as property maintenance means that we must either increase the church tax or sell our properties. Although I can’t say for sure, I would speculate that the weak economic situation is also behind our property sales,” Perander explained.

Member resignations peak in 2012

Church information officer Iiris Kivimäki said that last year the number of resignations from the church was higher than usual – more than 41,000. Many of them were newcomers to local congregations, some 14,000, putting the total number of tax-paying members who defected at nearly 27,000.

The steady decline in tax revenues has forced the church to seek other measures to balance its finances.

Perander said that only parishes with forested lands would steer clear of selling off real estate, as they would be able to secure some income by selling timber. Others, though have had to give up office space, lots and dwellings to bring in cash.

Ground operations manager Harri Palo said however that a real estate fire sale won’t balance parish finances. Rather offloading property would help churches avoid unnecessary maintenance costs and promote savings.

“If a property is under-utilised then we try to improve that. If boosting utlisation is problematic the other option would be to sell the property. Parishes also own many run down properties. We then decide whether or not it’s worth it to repair them or sell them off,” Palo declared.

According to Palo the ongoing property offloading could be in part due to parishes laboring under the cost of unused properties.

Personnel cuts next

The vast majority of recurring expenses faced by parishes – 61 percent – comprises personnel costs, followed by property maintenance outlays. For Perander it is clear where the church will look next to effect savings.

“If we are looking to save, then it is easiest to achieve from these high costs. In my opinion we will have to cut personnel costs in the parishes,” he added.