Story: Society

Page 7. Religion and the churches

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The prominence of churches in New Zealand’s cities, towns and countryside attests to the historical importance of the Christian religion in New Zealand.

In censuses, about half all New Zealanders give Christianity as their religion. The largest denominations are Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian. In all regions except Auckland and Otago–Southland, Anglicans are the largest denomination.

Only a very small proportion of the relatively high number who identify themselves as Christian attend church regularly. Traditional denominations are losing adherents, but evangelical sects are growing. In many country districts, and also in towns and cities, interdenominational co-operation is now well established.

Generally, the Christian churches and their social organisations are less influential in New Zealand society than they were.

The Christian churches in society

In several Christian denominations, splits have developed between conservatives and liberals over such issues as the ordination of women and, more recently, homosexuality. Female clergy are now accepted in the major Protestant denominations.

In the wider society, the liberals in many Christian denominations have taken progressive stands on race, poverty, sexuality and divorce, which conservative elements in the same denominations have not supported.

Religious diversity

Recent immigrants have given other religions a stronger foothold. By 2010 there were over 50,000 Hindus and Buddhists in New Zealand, and over 35,000 Muslims.

Communities of practising Jews have been present since the 19th century, when synagogues were built in most cities and major towns.

Māori religions

Two indigenous Māori religions draw on elements of Christianity. The larger, Rātana, was founded by a 20th-century faith-healer and the other, Ringatū, by a 19th-century prophet.

In several Christian denominations, separate, parallel Māori structures have evolved to give expression to the distinctive features of Māori Christianity.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Society - Religion and the churches', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 February 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 8 Feb 2005