In 19th century New Zealand, several Christian churches, or denominations, often built a church to share between them, as in many places their individual congregations were small. The different denominations, such as Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist, would take turns to run the church service.
There were several organisations, including the British and Foreign Bible Society, which raised money to distribute bibles and religious literature.
Interdenominational missions worked with Māori and provided help to the poor in cities and rural areas.
Interdenominational organisations became involved in social causes, including:
- temperance – campaigning against drinking or selling alcohol
- overseas aid.
Youth organisations with a Christian basis included Boys’ Brigade, Girls’ Brigade, Scouts, Guides, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).
New Zealand state schools are secular, but from 1897 religious education programmes have been taught in some primary schools. Interdenominational organisations are active in schools and universities, and have become more diverse in recent years.
Ecumenism is the movement to bring churches closer together. It was supported by leading Christians and saw interdenominational chaplains appointed to prisons, hospitals and universities. In 1941 the National Council of Churches (NCC) was founded by seven Protestant denominations. In 1989 it was replaced by the Council of Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand, and included the Catholic Church. However, it closed in 2005 and attempts at organisational ecumenism have struggled since.
Evangelicalism is the movement to attract new followers through a personal, ‘born again’, experience of religion. Evangelists from overseas have visited New Zealand, including Billy Graham, from the US, who had large crowds at his meetings in 1959. Evangelical missionary work included Missions to Seamen and Open Air Campaigners.
The charismatic movement, which began in the 1960s, emphasised gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as prophecy and healing. By the 21st century some of the largest churches in New Zealand were charismatic. These ‘mega churches’ had congregations of up to 5,000.