Story: Interdenominational Christianity

Page 2. Social and youth work

All images & media in this story

Temperance organisations

Churches and Christian community organisations set up many of the first orphanages and institutions for the poor, sick, former prisoners and ‘fallen women’ (prostitutes). A single cause came to dominate their social-work activities: temperance, the campaign against the sale and consumption of alcohol. The first temperance societies were aimed at Māori in Northland. Then came semi-religious non-denominational groups including the Rechabite Lodges (begun in Nelson in 1843), Bands of Hope aimed at young people (first in Auckland in 1859), Sons and Daughters of Temperance (1871) and Good Templar Lodges (from 1872).

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union spread rapidly from 1885 and mobilised middle-class women from a range of Protestant denominations, advocating the female franchise as a way to achieve its goals. The New Zealand Alliance focused the various temperance bodies on a vigorous, but ultimately unsuccessful, campaign to introduce prohibition. This was the high point of interdenominational Protestant Christianity.

Campaigning organisations

In the wake of the temperance campaign there were many attempts to motivate the Christian community to press for social and political change. Christians in New Zealand crusaded for causes among their fellow Christians and the wider society. In the 1930s the Christian Socialists, Christian Pacifists and Moral Rearmament campaigning organisations sought support from members of the churches. After the Second World War anti-abortionists and moral crusaders gained support, while liberal Christians were active in anti-racist and anti-war groups. One of the most prominent was the Council of Organisations for Relief Service Overseas (CORSO), set up by groups including the National Council of Churches, the Society of Friends (Quakers) and the secular Red Cross. In the 1970s overseas aid and development organisations began competing. The largest Christian foreign-aid body was World Vision, which was founded in the US in 1951 and opened a New Zealand office in 1971. Today there is a wide variety of overseas aid organisations, most of them with Christian origins.

Children’s groups

Influencing children was often a priority. Sunday schools were the first community activities in many new settlements and churches cooperated in running classes. Bible Class unions were established by many churches from the 1880s. They attracted enthusiastic support and often campaigned for causes that their denomination was concerned about. From 1926 the Boys’ Brigade, Girls’ Brigade, Scouts and Guides also operated with the sponsorship of Christian churches.

Parachute music festival

Mark de Jong was a member of the Christian rock band Certain Sounds in 1978. In 1991 he staged the first Parachute festival of Christian music. It became one of the largest music festivals in the southern hemisphere, each year drawing crowds of 25,000 to the Mystery Creek Events Centre near Hamilton to watch more than 100 local and international acts play on six stages. The last Parachute festival was held in 2014 and the organisation now focuses on Christian musical training.


The international Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) began operating in Auckland in 1855. In 1878 an equivalent body, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), was set up, initially in Dunedin. Both aimed to guide young people entering the workforce to develop values and behaviours consistent with Christian principles. Initially they provided bible studies and ‘improving’ events, but in the 20th century they focused on physical exercise.

Christian youth events

Many other youth organisations were founded by churches and Christian groups. By the 1960s Youth for Christ was holding interdenominational youth programmes in many cities. Out of these evolved Christian pop music and from the 1990s the Parachute Music Festival became one of the country’s largest. Non-denominational religion is still highly visible among young people.

How to cite this page:

Peter J. Lineham, 'Interdenominational Christianity - Social and youth work', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 July 2024)

Story by Peter J. Lineham, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 9 Aug 2018