The Pentecostal Christian revival movement reached New Zealand in the early 20th century, and emphasised faith healing, miraculous interventions and adult baptism. Some of these features attracted Māori to join the new movement. In 1928 a British Assemblies of God evangelist, Stephen Jeffries, prayed for a Māori chief dying of cancer, with apparently miraculous results. Many Māori converts were said to have resulted. In 2013 Māori made up 13% of Pentecostal church members.
In May 1976 an English-born member of the Whangārei Assemblies of God, George Anderson, promoted a petition to ban or limit the teaching of Māoritanga in schools, on the grounds that it conflicted with Christian principles. The pastor and some members of Anderson’s local church supported his petition but the national Assemblies of God later apologised to local Māori for the offence he had caused. Anderson eventually left the church.
Assemblies of God
The largest of the Pentecostal Churches, the Assemblies of God, gained relatively few Māori members. This was mainly due to the church’s focus on urban areas, where few Māori lived, and its foreign-born leaders who had little knowledge of the language or cultural traditions of Māori.
In 2007 the church’s general council expressed concern at its failure to achieve more Māori participation and appointed Pastor Peter Hira to head an enquiry into the issue.
Apostolic and New Life churches
In the 1940s and 1950s the Apostolic and New Life churches held tent crusades, often in rural areas, which attracted large numbers of Māori. Developing Māori leaders was a clear priority in the mid-20th century and Pastor Manuel Renata became chair of the Apostolic Church’s highest leadership body.
Large revival meetings were held in key Māori centres such as Tūrangawaewae. At one of these, in 1979, Brian Tamaki, joined the church and later became one of its most prominent leaders. Following his departure in 1994, the place of Māori within the Apostolic Church diminished.
Brian Tamaki (Ngāti Ngāwaero, Ngāti Maniapoto) was raised a Methodist but joined the Apostolic Church at age 21. He became leader of Rotorua’s Lake City Church, then the second largest Apostolic Church in New Zealand. In 1994 he and his congregation broke away from the Apostolic Church over a disagreement about paying fees to the national organisation. In 2001 Tamaki launched Destiny Church, which grew rapidly to around 7,000 regular attendees, with many more viewing live broadcasts of its services. The church estimated that 75% of its members were Māori and in 2008 it became an urban Māori authority – a pan-tribal organisation eligible for government funding to provide economic, social and cultural services to urban Māori.
In 2005 Tamaki was ordained Bishop of the Destiny Church and in 2009 he referred to himself as ‘Te Māngai’ or the mouthpiece of the Māori people, a title previously used for T. W. Rātana, the founder of the Rātana Church. In 2018 the number of Destiny Church adherents was 1,722.