Update: America likes NZ and is following our trends (sorta)!
NZ stat graph
With thanks to colleagues on the staff for supply of links, read also these reflections:
a. For some hard work on the stats and perceptive comments, read and digest what Geoff Robson (a ministerial colleague here in Chch) has to say. One great comment is this:
"And remember, while there are plenty of nominals among the ‘Christian’ respondents, there is no such thing as a nominal when it comes to No Religion. When you tick that box, you mean it."
b. Mike Crudge (also a ministerial colleague in Chch) makes an excellent point in this analysis, that actual church attendance is a critical statistic as 'census' religiosity is measured. He gives a graph which implies that the peak of church attendance in NZ was in (a)
c. From the Dim-Post blog, a graph re the 'oddities' here.
Friday 13 December: new reflections from Bosco Peters here.
This picture tells an alarming story for the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand (but not Polynesia). With graph supplied by leading religious researcher in our country, Dr Peter Lineham, we see a sorry story via census figures of Anglican decline continuing without sign of leveling out. Worse, Anglicanism is aging here (as reported here). As Bosco Peters says, according to the graph, in two decades Anglicanism ceases to exist here!
The story for Protestant Christianity is also alarming as every indicator here shows decline for non-Catholic Christianity and continuing growth for the religion of None or No Religious Commitment.
As we head to our bicentenary year for celebrating the first preaching of the gospel on these shores, should we spend a year in sackcloth and ashes rather than in celebration?
Credit where credit is due: as this news seeps out today (e.g. here and here) all Christians should acknowledge the success of the Catholic Church as it becomes the largest denomination here.
Nevertheless, the NZ Catholic report notes that the Catholic figures above show a decline in the number of 'census Catholics'. 491,421 in 2013 is less than the number in the 2006 census, 508,812.
Further, the relative strength of the Catholic church does not much mitigate the continuing decline of Christian allegiance in this country. We were once 90% a Christian country, now we are a country which is less than 50% Christian. We are sliding further and further into some kind of secular and/or spiritual-but-not-religiously-committed country
To return to the Anglican tragedy unfolding before our eyes: get past no longer being the largest denomination and focus on simple numbers. In 2006 there were 554,925 census Anglicans. In 2013 there are only 459,771 census Anglicans. That by my maths is a decline of 17%.
As a correspondent has said to me this afternoon, the whole of our next General Synod should be devoted to asking ourselves how we arrest and turn around the decline in our church?
But it would not be worth asking ourselves that question if we do not take a long and careful look at why the Catholic situation is currently relatively stronger than the Anglican situation.
FURTHER REFLECTIONS or 'on further (slower) reflection, after writing the above in haste (and correcting some initial incorrect reading of the graph' about an hour after first publishing the post)!
(1) Anglicans certainly need to ask two related questions:
Q1: why is our rate of decline as steep as it is? (Wrong answer: that we are shedding our aged members (see here). That may be true as far as it goes, but it does not answer the question why we have not been drawing in new members, and why the aged members do not have more Anglican children and grandchildren willing to name themselves as Anglican in census returns)
Q2: when we have many similarities to the Catholic church, why are their numbers (looking at the whole line) fairly steady compared to our decline? A comment below is worth noting, "As Stark and Finke have shown, churches that stand for something thrive, while those that equivocate tend to decline."
(2) All churches in these islands could do well to continue the reflections already begun with previous censuses on why Christianity as a whole is in decline. That question should be asked, in my view, alongside the question of why No Religion is on the rise. In one sense, if only our decline was matched by a corresponding rise in (say) Islam. Then we could more valiantly fight for Trinitarian doctrine (which we are quite good at). No. Our challenge (likely) is twofold:
(2.1) how do we communicate the relevance if not the eschatological urgency of faith to those comfortable with no faith?
(2.2) to those who understand themselves to be spiritual but indifferent to 'organised religion'(see, again, here), how do we communicate the blessings of fellowship and the advantages of corporate worship?
(3) Anecdotally (as mentioned in reports such as here) the decline in all churches is sharpest among second and higher generation Kiwis. That is, if we were to exclude (say) recently arrived Asian Catholics or South African Anglicans or Korean Presbyterians from the census figures, we could be in 'last one out turn off the light bulb' territory re active church participation. What specifically draws established Kiwis into dissociation with the churches of their forbears? (Possible answer, seriously: life is too good here. Who needs God when we have a working health service, long life expectancy, and heaven on earth at the beach, in the bush and on the mountains?)
(4) What can non-Catholic churches learn from the Catholic education system in our country? (In my view one of the significant reasons for the comparative strength of the Catholic church in this period of decline of Christian allegiance is the association between 'school and parish', forged via requirement for baptism in order to gain enrolment in a Catholic school. But that is only the start of the learning points ... Bosco Peters recently published pertinent reflections here.)