Story: Ngā hāhi – Māori and Christian denominations

From 1814, when the first Anglican missionaries came to New Zealand, there have been many Māori converts to various Christian denominations. Since the mid-20th century the challenge for churches has been how to give Māori recognition and power within their structures.

Story by Hirini Kaa
Main image: Whāingaroa (Raglan) mission, 1840

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Anglican Church

The Anglican Church was the first to send missionaries to New Zealand in 1814. Its Māori name, Te Hahi Mihinare, means ‘the missionary church’. Anglican missionaries used Māori converts to spread their message. The first Māori priest, Rota Waitoa, was ordained in 1860.

In the late 1800s, after the New Zealand wars, Māori became less powerful in the Anglican Church (and in New Zealand society as a whole). However, by 1928 a new generation of Māori leaders had successfully called for a Māori Anglican bishop. After the Second World War many Māori moved from rural areas to the cities. Churches, including the Anglican Church, set up programmes and communities to support them.

Since 1992 the Anglican Church has had three cultural streams – for Pākehā, Māori and Pacific peoples – and all priests received training in the Māori language.

Methodist Church

Methodist missionaries arrived in New Zealand in 1822. Māori ministers were paid less than their Pākeha colleagues, but were very important in the church’s growth. In the 1970s Rua Rakena published a book calling for a change in how Māori were treated in the church, and the Methodist Church became more bicultural.

Catholic Church

The first Catholic missionaries arrived in New Zealand in 1838 and worked with Māori in Northland and then Waikato. For many years after the New Zealand wars there was little missionary work among Māori, but many Māori Catholic communities stayed loyal to the church. In the 1940s Wiremu Te Āwhitu became the first Māori Catholic priest, and Hui Aranga, gatherings for Māori Catholics, began.

In the 1980s the leadership of the Catholic Church embraced biculturalism, and Te Rūnanga o Te Hāhi Katorika ki Aotearoa (National Catholic Māori Council of New Zealand) was established. In 1988 Max Takuira Mariu was made the first Māori bishop.

Presbyterian Church

The Presbyterian Church in New Zealand was at first a church for British settlers, but later did some missionary work among Māori. The first Māori Presbyterian minister, Timu Teoke, was ordained in 1931. In 1945 there was a call for more Māori leaders within the church. In 1947 a marae was opened in the Bay of Plenty as a base for Māori in the church. Te Wānanga a Rangi, which provides Māori-focused theological training, was established in 1953.

Mormon Church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons, sent their first missionaries to New Zealand from the US from 1881. They gained many converts among Māori, especially in Northland and on the North Island’s East Coast. In 2013 almost half of all New Zealand Mormons were Māori.

Salvation Army

When the Salvation Army first came to New Zealand, they focused on urban areas, where few Māori lived. In 1888 a mission to Māori began on the Whanganui River, and in the mid-20th century the Army ran a mission on the East Coast. Since 2000 the Salvation Army has increased its work among Māori.


The Ringatū religion was begun by the Māori prophet Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki. It became a church in 1875.

Rātana Church

Te Haahi Rātana – the Rātana Church – was founded by Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana in 1925. In 2013 the Rātana Church was the largest Māori denomination in New Zealand and had a membership of 38,268, around 6% of the Māori population.

Pentecostal churches

Some Pentecostal churches, such as the Apostolic Church, made an effort to develop Māori leaders in the mid-20th century. Brian Tamaki launched the Destiny Church in 2001, and in the early 21st century around 75% of its members were Māori.

How to cite this page:

Hirini Kaa, 'Ngā hāhi – Māori and Christian denominations', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 June 2024)

Story by Hirini Kaa, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 March 2017