Friday, May 15, 2015

Memo to NZ churches: Stop trying to be relevant!?

I have been away for a few days at a very successful Diocese of Christchurch Clergy Conference. It was a very busy time, so not even an attempt at blogging while away. Now back in the land of catching up on what I missed while away (FOMO anyone?) I see this and that which I could comment on, but for today, let's suffice with an article I noticed on my smartphone while away.

The NZ Herald has published a major article on religion in NZ, complete with interactive map.

The stats are mostly the expected 'not very encouraging' kind re growth (but Auckland, take a bow). They are also a salutary reminder that wealth can make one immune to desire for God.

But what are we to make of the situation? Should we change/stay the same/give up? The article offers some thoughts from leading NZ thinkers on religion. Nick Thompson is particularly interesting, hence the title of this post.

What do you think?

Overseas commenters are welcome to make suggestions too :)


Father Ron Smith said...

In the Herald article, I particularly noted Ron Barker's comment that, having been a Roman Catholic, he was now a Pentecostal: because of the impact of its Prosperity Gospel.

We do need to realise that, for poor people - like Pacifica immigrants, for example - the idea of of becoming prosperous as the result of being part of a particular faith community that majors on this, must have a significant appeal.

I suspect, though, that there are also others - not so poor - who also embrace the Prosperity Gospel, because of its financial appeal!

The other question, regarding the discovery that R. C. s are now the most active Faith Community in N.Z., is that catholicism has its own community dynamic. Attendance at Mass can be a great stimulus for social togetherness with like-minded people - especially those migrants for whom The Church has been a significant factor in their daily lives - not just on Sundays.

However. It is God's Church, and the Gospels tell us that it cannot fail!

Anonymous said...

You would find these lectures of an "End of Religion" Symposium early in May all interesting. If you don't have time to look at them all (they are each c30 mins, I suggest you look at the ones by Rodney Stark, Phillip Jenkins and J Gordon Melton all interesting.


MargaretG said...

BTW I notice that the Herald is using the census figures - fair enough. But the age group with the least religion is ... babies, closely followed by preschoolers.

In the 1970s parents gave their young children their own denomination. Now they look at them and think "they aren't old enough yet". In other words there has been a change in behaviour by church going parents for this agegroup.

If we want to reverse the trend, then I suggest a campaign the churches for parents to go back to the old way of doing things.


Anonymous said...

Peter, I think that Dr Thompson makes a strong point. Relevance is a subjective concept that only has beauty in the eye of the beholder. The Pope (who seems to be "relevant" to Christians at the moment) says that real Christianity is encapsulated in Matthew 25. If we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the prisoner, we can forget prosperity. In fact, if we followed Matthew 25, we could probably shelve social justice as well. In the end, the gospel is the only relevant message and the "get-up" whether Pentecostal, Catholic is irrelevant.


Eric said...

I am a long-term student of religion stats in Australia and regularly crunch numbers on related topics. (Click my link to see stuff I've written)

Educated areas typically have more active Christians and more irreligious. Poor areas typically have more nominal Christians. Thus the real situaltion is different from what's seen on the map.

Anglicans are strongest in the rich areas. Other denoms are strongest in nice-but-not-rich areas. Churches often struggle in poor areas but now God is importing believers from overseas into those places.

The NZ no religion figures are higher than ours. We have more nominal Christians here, mostly Catholic and Anglican.

Jean said...

Welcome back Peter!

I think any church reflecting authentic christianity is relevant to people on a personal level, it need not 'try' to be. Forgiveness and hope is a widely prevalent human need, rich and poor, even for those who fail to recognise it. Man cannot live on bread alone.

Relevant to culture is a different issue in terms of ways of worshipping and ordering worship. Environments need to have a degree of what we are 'used to' to be welcoming. Hence to a degree it is necessary to keep up some aspects of church worship with contexts familiar to the majority of the population who do not attend so if they do they aren't scared away.

However, it is not relevance to cultural context which will spread the gospel; it might just make it easier. It is the actions, teaching and prayer of the saints of the body of the church.

As for the prosperity gospel, well I just can't get it to work for me...... drat it all. Of course it worked for Robert Laidlaw but his investment didn't have a grow my personal wealth clause, only a stipulation if I earn more I will offer more back to God. I think when he passed away something like 90% of his earnings were tithed. Perhaps we could advocate this?


Anonymous said...

I don't think census figures are useful. In the past, we have all been happy to pretend that Christmas visitors were our brothers and sisters. Thankfully, church tourists and grandchildren of christians are being clear ( honest) in the census. I don't think we are in decline at all. Thank God, we are no longer respectable ( a bitter pill for Anglicans possibly?). Eric has a point, Anglicans tend do well with the establishment. Perhaps growth is elsewhere.


Unknown said...

How exactly does one justify a comment like, "Churches should embrace preaching a gospel of prosperity" in light of what the gospels actually say Jesus said (re: the comments from Ron Barker)? "Sell all you have and give it to the poor," he said to a rich man asking how he could inherit eternal life. Are rich Christians in New Zealand going to sell all they have and give it to the poor? I don't think so.

A prosperity gospel promotes selfishness and a self-justification for a lifestyle that is completely at odds with what Jesus actually stood for. It would be better if people who are motivated by such things just stopped trying to call themselves Christians rather than trying to redefine and muddy the picture of what Christianity is by ignoring what the founder actually said.