The 2006 New Zealand Census

Recently the Christchurch Anglican diocesan office sent an analysis of the 2006 census by Dr. McDonald to all clergy, parishes, and ministry units in our diocese for reflection. Here is that analysis followed by a couple of short reflections of mine:

Will New Zealand still be predominantly ‘Christian’ in 2011?

An analysis of the 2006 Census Religion Question

Dr. Barry William McDonald,

Senior Lecturer in Statistics, Massey University, Albany

Data released by Statistics New Zealand from the 2006 Census shows nearly 270,000 more New Zealand residents professed No Religion in answer to the question on Religious adherence. This takes the No Religion percentage to 32.2%, or 1.3 million New Zealanders. By contrast the number of responses professing some variant of Christianity dropped to 52.9% (2.1 million), down from 57.3% in 2001. Some of these include double counting of those with more than one religion. If these trends continue, less than 49% of New Zealanders will profess any adherence to Christianity by the next census in 2011.

The 2006 census reveals other changes within the religious makeup of New Zealand. Anglican numbers reduced by 30,000 (5.1%) to 555,000 New Zealanders, while Catholic numbers grew by 23,000 (4.7%) to exceed half a million (509,000) for the first time. If these trends continue then Catholicism will be New Zealand’s biggest faith by the next census. Anecdotally, some of the Catholic growth is due to immigration, so there is no guarantee trends will continue at the same rate. Even if it does, Catholic growth is not keeping up with New Zealand’s population, which grew by 7.8% between 2001 and 2006.

The Presbyterian Church declined by 32,000 (7.7%) to fall to 385,000 census adherents - less than one tenth of New Zealand’s population for the first time in a century. By contrast many smaller Christian denominations or movements stabilized or grew. Methodists, after being in decline for decades, stabilised this census at around 116,600 adherents. Baptists grew 11% to 56,000, exceeding the population growth rate. Pentecostals grew by 18.4% to 79,600, though there was considerable shuffling of members among the denominations. Orthodox churches grew by 38% to 13,200 adherents, helped along by immigration. Salvation Army (11,500) and Open Brethren (16,800) declined in adherents, while Seventh Day Adventists (14,000) and the notorious Exclusive Brethren (2300) grew at just over the population rate.

Ratana (50,500) and Ringatu (16,400) grew, but not as fast as the New Zealand population. Jehovah’s Witnesses (17,900) saw scarcely any change. Latter Day Saints (Mormons) grew slightly faster than the population, to 43,500.

Religions to grow dramatically were Hinduism (up more than 24,000 to 64,500), Buddhism (up more than 10,000 to 52,400) and Islam (up over 12,000 to 36,200), and Sikh (up over 4000 to 9500). Much of this growth is due to immigration but the actual amount is unclear. The numbers for Judaism (6800) and Baha’i (2800) were fairly stable, while New Age religions (9500) and Spiritualism (7700) grew at 22% and 32% respectively. The figures for Object (to stating one’s religion) or no answer/facetious are not given, but subtraction suggests they are about 490,000.

Where to from here for Christianity in New Zealand? Current census figures do not give a breakdown of age, sex, ethnicity or country of origin, and of course we don’t know the future, but a few trends are apparent.

What is clear is that New Zealand is simultaneously becoming a less religious country, and a more religious one. There was a huge growth (over ¼ million) in people who declared no religion, but also the total number stating a religion increased by nearly 50,000 souls. This 50,000 comprised a decrease of 10,000 Christians combined with an increase of 60,000 from other religions. Thus the number of census Christians has scarcely changed, but the rest of the population has grown around them. The changes suggest increasing religious polarisation. Some atheists and agnostics may seek to increase the secularisation of New Zealand, especially when (if?) Christianity officially loses its majority status. I say ‘officially’ as some who object to stating their religion may still be religious, and not identifying a religion does not mean atheist: but politically it’s the numbers that count. Christians who come under pressure from secularists may unexpectedly find themselves looking to other faith communities for support.

The Anglican and Presbyterian Churches will almost certainly lose more census adherents in coming years, especially as those churches are known to have an older age makeup. However, the rate of decline for Anglicans is about half that of the preceding 20 years, possibly thanks to immigration. I think sooner or later the decline will flatten out, as it appears to have done for Methodists, but the turning point is not yet. Decline in census numbers need not mean decline in congregational life.

The broad census category “Christian” (not further defined) was larger than Methodism at 186,000. This has declined by 6000. On the other hand those choosing labels that particularly describe their beliefs (such as Evangelical, Protestant, and Pentecostal) grew by about twice that number. Many, though not all, evangelistically oriented churches also grew in number. About 7.6% of responses were for churches or views that are evangelistically-oriented – besides the like-minded people within the Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Catholic and “Christian” camps. Excluding the most obvious sects this drops to 5.9% including some doubly-counted. It is for the future to see whether such believers will be able to hold back the tide of change towards New Zealand being officially a majority non-Christian nation.


Reflection 1 - Anglican acknowledgement that we are quite small might help

Bosco Peters

As far as I know we keep no provincial attendance statistics - only diocesan ones. Maybe we don't dare to find out the truth? But the article above gives too much weight to the census.
Roman Catholicism as far as I know (and I'm sure they do dare to keep statistics) has long been the largest faith group in this country. I would guess they are about four times Anglican size on a Sunday. I would be surprised if we had over 100,000 in Anglican churches this Christmas - if so about a fifth of those calling themselves Anglican in the census probably have any contact with church whatsoever. We like to think we are quite big - but our whole church is about the size of an average CofE diocese. Problems arise, in part, from not accepting this and behaving like it. I would be surprised if we have over 35,000 in church this Sunday (about a twentieth of the census Anglican figures). I suspect that it is no longer needed in younger cultures to identify oneself as "Anglican" - the older non-church-going "Anglicans" are dying.
The actual statistical truth might raise even more discussion than the article above.
Did anyone do the statistics for how much our church attendance dropped during the Decade of Evangelism. I think CofE lost a million attenders during that decade.

Reflection 2 - Tikanga Asia?

Bosco Peters

The latest census results may reignite vigorous discussion about our Tikanga structure and its efficacy in our church’s mission and ministry. There have clearly been significant changes to our nation’s make-up since the formulation of our three tikangas. Within the last five years those of Asian ethnicity have increased by approximately 50% to form nearly 10% of our nation – almost 50% more than those of Pacific Island ethnicity. How is our Anglican Church providing mission and ministry in this newer context? Those advocates of our system need to answer which Tikanga provides the natural home for those of Asian ethnicity? In the original vision of a Tikanga Rua church with Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti – the issue would be less puzzling. But the last minute change to a Tikanga Toru church undermined easy justification and left us with “if toru, why not whaa, and if whaa why not rima? etc” The Primates’ Meeting, one of our instruments of unity, in one of only two motions in its history – questioned NZ’s move to multiple jurisdictions, and the Windsor Report explicitly concludes to avoid our NZ model. The cries for alternative Episcopal oversight along ethical and theological differences need tikanga advocates to rigorously clarify why cultural differences require different treatment to theological ones. There is pacific precedent of different denominations having primary responsibility in different areas. Is that to be the NZ Anglican solution: that we leave pastoral care, mission to and ministry of Asians to Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, and others?
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