CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

londonThe 2008 International Conference
Twenty Years and More: Research into Minority Religions, New Religious Movements and 'the New Spirituality'

An International Conference organized by INFORM and CESNUR in association with ISORECEA at the London School of Economics, 16-20th April 2008

The Charismatic Movement in Finland today

by Tuija Hovi (Church Research Institute, Tampere, Finland)

A paper presented at the 2008 International Conference, London, UK. Preliminary version. Please do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.


In this paper, I will present the status of the Charismatic movement as a minority religion in the seemingly Evangelical Lutheran but very secularized Finland . Altogether 81.7% of Finland ’s approximately 5 million inhabitants are officially members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church , even though only 3.1% of them are active church-goers. (KT 19.2.2008.) In this sense, the situation in Finland is very similar to that of the neighbouring Scandinavian countries, Sweden and Norway . However, various revival movements have reached the country despite the dominant status of the established church.

The Church Research Institute operates the database Religions in Finland. The main purpose of this work is to create a continuously updated digital database and public information service for researching religious communities and studying religious change in Finland . [1] At the moment, the database includes information on 807 religious communities in Finland , most of them representing different forms of Christianity, but also other religious and spiritual traditions. This presentation is based on the database work that I am involved with. It is my task to update especially the categories of the nondenominational Christian field. The traditional Pietist revival movements have lived within the Evangelical Lutheran Church , whereas later American revivals have settled in the nondenominational field.

The biggest category in the Religions in Finland database is Pentecostalism (270 local congregations). However, it does not mean that Pentecostalism is a dominating religion in Finland . The number of Pentecostalists is around 45,000. There are local independent Pentecostal congregations all over the country, and usually, there is both a Finnish-speaking and a Swedish-speaking community in the bilingual areas working side by side. The number of members in Pentecostal congregations varies between 10 and 3000 individuals.

The Charismatic Revivals in Finland

The Pentecostal-Charismatic movement is the most expansive form of Christianity in the world today. Various doctrinal and ritual dimensions have been emphasized in different branches of the movement, such as healing and miracles, prosperity and success, evangelizing, worship and praising. (Cf. Anderson 2004.) Charismatic Christianity reached Finland as early as 1911 when Pentecostalism was introduced into the country by the visiting Norwegian Methodist preacher Thomas Barrat. Later on, the so called Neopentecostalist wave broke over in Finland in the 1970’s. Simultaneously, this second wave [2] was accepted within certain circles, including the established Evangelical Lutheran Church , as the Charismatic Renewal.

The latest boom of Charismatic Christianity in Finland began in the beginning of the 1990’s in several forms, such as the Vineyard, the Toronto Blessing, and the Faith Movement. The Vineyard influence was channelled into founding one congregation in Helsinki in 1996, and as well as activities like home church groups and networks of pastoral counselling. Today, the Helsinki Vineyard has 70 members. The Toronto Blessing had the most visible effects, starting the City Church boom in Finland . It introduced new forms of spirituality into urban religiosity, such as the holy laughter, revived faith healing and ecstatic praising and praying during meetings.

The Faith Movement added to this the idea of prosperity and success. Nevertheless, the Faith Movement has had a somewhat lower profile in Finland because of public criticism towards its strong emphasis on aspects of the health and wealth, which is a rather unfamiliar idea in the traditional Finnish Lutheran scene, and in the old Pietist revival movements in the country. It seems that the influence of the Faith Movement is stronger in the Swedish-speaking urban areas on the Western and Southern coast. The Faith Movement (like many other religious influences) came to Finland via Sweden , from the famous Word of Life centre in Uppsala (Hovi 2000, 182).

The topic of my own research project is the category of the independent congregations that have come about as a result of this third wave of Charismatic revival. From now on, I talk about it as the Neocharismatic Movement in order to distinguish it from the Charismatic branch within the mainline church. The Neocharismatic congregations in Finland usually have 20−50 active members. Only a few of them have more than a hundred members. Membership in these communities does not depend on rites or knowledge of creeds, but upon a personal experience of salvation. Nevertheless, systematic fundamentalist education in Bible schools is strongly recommended to all new members. [3] In addition to the small local congregations, the Neocharismatic movement operates through the travelling evangelists who arrange, for instance, healing happenings around the country hoping to attract large crowds.

While traditional Pentecostalism was mostly an agrarian movement in Finland, the Neocharismatic movement appeals more to urban young adults and the age groups who were born between the middle of the 1960’s and the middle of the 1980’s – the so-called generation X. Considering the secularization hypothesis of urban culture, it is interesting to note that the most important concentration of Neocharismatic congregations is in the Helsinki region. It has been argued that Christianity has lost its strong status in the capital city area in Finland , according to the criteria of religious commitment, acceptance of doctrinal beliefs and regular attendance at religious rituals (Cf. Kääriäinen & al. 2003, 254−255). In spite of this argument, 34% of the Neocharismatic communities in the database are situated in the Helsinki area.

Planting New Congregations

According to the bulletin of the Church Research Institute, “new non-denominational Charismatic congregations are being founded at an ever-increasing pace. It appears that Finnish Christianity is finding new institutional forms that have minimal organisation and autonomy of the congregations in common.” (KT 15.6.2006.)  In the Religions in Finland database, 90 active non-denominational Neocharismatic communities are listed, both congregations and other registered associations. Of these communities, 33 were founded in the 1990’s, but 50% of active Neocharismatic communities in Finland have registered in the present decade, since 2000.

“Planting” new congregations is the activity encouraged by the international Dawn Movement. However, only a few of the new communities seem to live longer than a couple of years.  In fact, the Neocharismatic field is constantly in a process of flux. This is due to several reasons. The communities are often organised by a single leading person, who may, for example, change. A charismatic community without a charismatic enough leader will not necessarily be motivated to maintain the regular collective functions. Another reason may be that the amount of members is not necessarily sufficient for the economical basis of the activities. For instance, renting a meeting house in the centre of a town can easily be too expensive for a small community. After all, the functions should be financed by gathering tithes and offerings from the members. Then again, organizing activities as voluntary work can simply be too energy consuming for only one or two persons.

I give a good example. A couple of young brothers of the leading group in the local Pentecostal congregation of Nummela [4] were not satisfied with the functions and spiritual life in their traditional community. They wanted more, so, in 2002 they founded a new Charismatic congregation of some twenty members, and they named their new community, rather provokingly the Living Faith; the following year they also had it registered officially. The enthusiastic Living Faith congregation worked for 4 years, until the brothers thought it over and came to the conclusion that there was no conflict, after all. The Living Faith reunited with the local Pentecostal congregation that it had left earlier, to make everything much more practical. That was the end of the Living Faith congregation. (Ristin Voitto 44/2006.) I think this example shows how dynamic and changing the Neocharismatic field is; many new congregations are being founded all the time, but only some of them are strong enough to continue for longer than a few years.

Another remarkable factor that reflects processes in the field is that Neocharismatic communities may change their name because of changes in their functions or for new doctrinal emphasis. This trend is visible especially in the local City Churches that were founded during the 1990’s. Only two years ago, there were still 16 City Churches in Finland ; today there are 10. For instance, in Mikkeli [5] , the City Church has turned into the Father’s Heart congregation. The pastor explained the change to me using the metaphor of a tube. He said that during the last 12 years their community of about 30 members has gone through the Charismatic tube and now they have come out of the other end of it. From now on, they want to concentrate on more silent worship, inner healing and what they call “soaking in the Spirit” in a more peaceful way. Needless to say, they are also 12 years older today, so weekly ecstatic meetings are perhaps no longer so that appealing.

In fact, the trend of naming a congregation individually also seems to be fashionable among the new Pentecostal communities. Since the beginning of this century, several Pentecostal congregations for young adults have been founded. These groups usually emerge from a larger and older local Pentecostal community of two or three generations, like the Living Faith did. Typically, the congregations of young adults emphasize different types of meetings with pop or rock music, lively adoration, drama etc. Obviously, the influences come from the international Neocharismatic field. Pentecostal congregations of young adults are seldom named as ‘Pentecostal congregations’ if they have been founded since 2000. Instead, their names rather resemble those of Neocharismatic communities, e.g. the Crossroads (Risteyspaikka), the New Laundry (Uusipesula), the Home Church (Turun ja Kaarinan Kotikirkot), the MetroChapel (Metrokappeli), the Anchor of Hope (Toivon Ankkuri) and the Station (Asemaseurakunta).

Collaboration and Networks

Even though most of the Neocharismatic field seems to be quite loosely organized, there is an association called the Communion of Congregations (Seurakuntien yhteys ry.) offering collaboration between independent small congregations at the national level. Originally, this organization was founded in 1999 to support the work of the City Churches. Today, the Communion of Congregations has 23 member communities, with about 1400 members altogether. In practice, it means approximately the third of the committed members in the Neocharismatic communities in Finland .

It is typical for the Neocharismatic Movement to operate in a flexible manner through informal social networks, which makes it very dynamic. Many congregations are indeed also in a constant process of change. This does not mean that a Neocharismatic group fades away completely or that the members deconvert; the groups may just reorganize their functions. For instance, a congregation called the Bridge decided to end its work after having succeeded to build up a functioning collaboration network among other local Christian congregations in the town. The members of the Bridge scattered and returned to their former congregations (Pentecostal congregations, Free Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church etc .). Due to this kind of mobility within the Neocharismatic field, the number of the adherents has stayed more or less the same for several years; hangers-on who attend Neocharismatic activities selectively are around 10,000, while the amount of committed members in the independent Neocharismatic congregations is 4000−5000.

The Neocharismatic Movement advocates a strong sense of collectivism and the number of members in these communities is usually low.  However, it is difficult to give precise figures because all Neocharismatic communities are not motivated to count and register their members, and there is also some variation in their definitions of a member.

What about the Future Prospects?

One reason for the slow growth of the movement in Finland may be the fact that the Lutheran Church has hidden power in the Finnish culture, even though the society is regarded as a very secular one. The Norwegian sociologist of religion, Inger Furseth, has noted that the Lutheran tradition still works as a standard, for instance, concerning moral issues, even though it is not accepted as a unified system of thinking nor as a way of life (cf. Furseth 2006). The situation is very much the same in Finland . It is the norm for most of the Finns to be members of the Church, but only a very small percentage of the members actually participate in church activities at all, except for christenings, weddings and funerals, and a service at Christmas. Perhaps this is why new revival movements win supporters in a very narrow sector of the Finnish population, while the attitude toward new religious waves is mostly more or less skeptical.

An interesting case at the moment is the Nokia Mission, a charismatic evangelizing organization that has operated with controversial status within the Evangelical Lutheran Church for about 10 years. In March 2008, the leader of the Mission announced that he was going to establish a new church. The Nokia Mission does not have committed members at all, at the moment, but the largest weekly service in Helsinki alone gathers more than 1000 participants from both inside and outside the Evangelical Lutheran Church , and from the Pentacostal and Neocharismatic circles. As an independent church, the Nokia Mission may be in trouble, however, because the regular service participants may possibly be unwilling to leave their familiar communities to join a new one.

In the light of a survey made by the Church Research Institute at the end of last year, it looks as if fundamentalist or conservative Christianity is not the most obvious winner in the Finnish religious scene. On the contrary, a certain open-mindedness towards alternative forms of spirituality, including New Age, is quite common among Finns, while only 8 % of the population defines themselves as fundamentalists or religiously conservative. Altogether 5% of Finns regard themselves as atheists. Criticism towards the Church as an institution is most common in the urban areas, where the Neocharismatic Movement has most of its supporters. (KT 28.11.2007)

Even thought the field of the Neocharismatic movement seems to be dynamic and active when considering the number of registered congregations, the actual growth is modest if it is measured as the number of individual adherents. The Neocharismatic communities will probably remain relatively small groups, because being tightly committed to a single congregation does not appeal to most of the adult population. However, the active international Neocharismatic network keeps on working in Finland , as well as in other Nordic countries. It has become settled in the country as a minority religion with various dimensions and as a critical alternative to the established forms of Christianity.

Tuija Hovi has received her academic education at the Department of Comparative Religion, University of Turku . Her doctoral thesis (2007) dealt with the relationship between religious experience and personal narrative in the charismatic Faith Movement, to be more precise, in a single Faith congregation, Word of Life, in Turku . The study was based on interview material, and its theoretical framework was social psychology and anthropology of religion. At the moment, Hovi works as a researcher in a project concerning Finnish religiosity at the Church Research Institute. The Institute is a part of the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and its purpose is to carry out and coordinate research on religious life, church matters and various religious and spiritual trends in contemporary Finnish society.



Anderson, Allan 2004. An Introduction to Pentecostalism. Global Charismatic Christianity. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

Furseth, Inger 2006. From Quest for Truth to Being Oneself. Religious Change in Life Stories. Frankfurt am Main : Peter Lang.

Hovi, Tuija 2000. The Health and Wealth Gospel in Finland . – Kaplan, Jeffrey (ed.), Beyond the Mainstream: The Emergence of Religious Pluralism in Finland , Estonia and Russia . Studia Historica 63. Helsinki : Finnish Literature Society.

Hovi, Tuija 2007. Usko ja kerronta. Arkitodellisuuden narratiivinen rakentuminen uskonliikkeessä. [Faith and Narration. The Narrative Construction of Everyday Reality in the Faith Movement] Annales Universitatis Turkuensis C 254. Turku : Turun yliopisto.

Hunt, Stephen 1997. ‘Doing the Stuff’: the Vineyard Connection. − Stephen Hunt & Malcolm Hamilton & Tony Walter (eds.), Charismatic Christianity. Sociological Perspectives, 77−96. London : Macmillan Press Ltd.

KT 15.6.2006. Uskonnollisten yhteisöjen määrä Suomessa kasvaa nopeasti. Kirkon tiedotuskeskus. [The number of religious communities in Finland is rapidly encreasing. Communication Center , Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland ]

KT 28.11.2007. Asennetutkimus: Suomalaiset suhtautuvat uskontoon avarasti. Kirkon tiedotuskeskus. [Survey on attitudes: The Finns take an open-minded stance toward religion. Communication Center , Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland .]

KT 19.2.2008. Väestötilastot tarkentuneet - luterilaiseen kirkkoon kuuluu 81,7 prosenttia suomalaisista. Kirkon tiedotuskeskus. [81.7 % of Finns belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church . Communication Center , Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland .]

Kääriäinen, Kimmo & Kati Niemelä & Kimmo Ketola 2003. Moderni kirkkokansa. Suomalaisten uskonnollisuus uudella vuosituhannella. [The modern religiosity in Finland .] Kirkon tutkimuskeskuksen julkaisuja 82. Tampere : Church Research Institute.

Mikkola, Teija & Niemelä, Kati & Petterson, Juha 2007. The Questioning Mind. Faith and Values of the New Generation. Publication 58. Tampere : Church Research Institute.

Poloma, Margaret M. & Lynette F. Hoelter 1998. The ” Toronto Blessing”: A Holistic Model of Healing. − Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 37(2), 257−271.

Ristin Voitto 44/2006.

[1] For the time being, the open access database is only in Finnish, but the introduction on the database is written also in English (see http://www.uskonnot.fi/english).

[2] I am referring to the historical development of Charismatic Christianity as the three waves beginning with the Azusa Street revival in 1906. (Cf. Hunt 1997, 82; Poloma & Hoelter 1998, 258−259.)

[3] The Charismatic Renewal within the Evangelical Lutheran Church , for its part, has adopted the so-called Alfa courses that were originally developed in the Anglican Church. The Alfa courses were first introduced to the Finnish Christian scene by the Free Church of Finland.

[4] A small town near Helsinki in Southern Finland .

[5] A town in the Southern Savolax area in Eastern Finland .


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