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The End is Nigh

End is near

I have a mathematics degree, and I’m not afraid to use it.

Full disclosure: past performance is no guarantee of future results.

The 2013 Census data on religious affiliation released by Statistics New Zealand on December 10 graphically looks like this:

Graph of religion in New Zealand Census

Professor Peter Lineham says:

Anglican affiliation has declined 17 percent – from 554,925 to 459,771 – over the past seven years, according the latest census.
Partly this is because the average age of Anglicans is very high.
Last census there were 41,000 Anglicans over the age of 80, only slightly less than those under 10. But this still means that many Anglicans in 2006 have changed their affiliation since then – probably to “none”.
Meanwhile, for the first time in New Zealand history Roman Catholics outnumber Anglicans.
Catholics now number 492,324, although they too have declined slightly from the last census.
The big growth has been in those of “no religion,” up from 32.2% last census to 38.6% this census.
And when we add in those who objected to state their religion or who didn’t answer the question, a majority of New Zealanders (50.82%) now have no religious profession.

Let me add some other points:

  • This is people who write themselves down as identifying with a religion. It does not mean any active involvement with the faith they tick. They may not even be baptised, but still write down “Anglican”.
  • Anglicanism in this country keeps no national statistics. Would there be 30,000 in Anglican Churches this Sunday? Certainly less than that next month. Would there be three or four times that number in Roman Catholic Churches this Sunday? When I attend worship, I have an OCD tendency to work out how many are present. Anglicans, when they report on a service I have been present at, can easily guess report a far greater number than I know were actually there. It may be time for the Moa to take its head out of the sand with a bit more honesty – painful as that may be; including honesty about our tendency to have huge, top-heavy structures that preserve the (false) impression (to ourselves and to others) of serving a far larger constituency.
  • The graph of Anglican affiliation has a very consistent slope. Following that slope, Anglicanism on these shores ceases to exist in two decades’ time.
  • The graph of “All Christian” has quite a regular slope (from 90% less than five decades ago). If Roman Catholics can maintain a steady line, less than 4 decades from now non-Catholics cease to exist here.

I wrote recently what might be some of the healthy dynamics of Roman Catholicism that lead to these statistical results:

  • A primary focus on worship and spirituality.
  • Schools. Roman Catholic schools are a primary instrument of education and formation, of mission and ministry.
  • Homogeneity in worship. The expectation is that you go to worship on Sunday, the focus is less on the individual community where you participate, and so when you travel (or when quakes destroy your building) you can move more easily from one worshipping community to another.
  • Well-trained and formed clergy.

Next year is 200 years since the first preaching of the Gospel on these shores and the arrival of Anglicanism. To celebrate, an unstaffed building is being built on the spot where that event happened. I hope that is not a prophetic sign of our not-far-off future – a memorial building to an interesting, quaint, past piece of our country’s history.

*****

Other sites discussing and reporting this: here, here, here, and here.

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19 Responses to The End is Nigh

  1. Kia ora Bosco.

    In Tikanga Maori we have five bishops for a tiny number of Sunday worshipers. We are certainly top-heavy with no plan at all as to how we will address what’s happening on the ground.

    Although in some ways we have a different ministry focus (e.g. marae ministry is largely indifferent to denomination) and so our solutions will be different on the ground, we at least need to start the conversation. So while a ‘one size fits all’ formation approach will not work (eg SJC at present) there are principles and approaches we could share.

    The iwi-denomination-demographic breakdown will not be out until May apparently, but it will certainly show a large decline on the ground. But the top will remain as heavy as ever. Exciting times!

    • Kia ora, Hirini.

      I so much appreciate that you are prepared to look this information in the face, starting with honesty about our current, actual situation.

      Because we (Pakeha at least) are careful not to keep statistics, we are walking blindly into this conversation. Pakeha do not have a one size fits all clergy formation. I suspect more than 90% of new Pakeha clergy do not have St John’s College formation [SJC, St John’s College for our overseas readers is our seminary/theological college]. The newly-appointed Pakeha Dean of St John’s College is yet to be ordained a priest.

      Like you, I see (too) little engagement with the real context that we live in.

      Thanks for moving the conversation forward a bit more. Blessings.

  2. Hmm
    Statistically it does not at all tell us that the number of regulars each week is declining.
    It is in fact largely meaningless statistically.
    It could just as easily be explained by people objecting to question, [even ning nong anglicans might do that] lumping themselves in as just christians, more people being honest with themselves about their reality and not ticking our box because they realise they really aren’t anything [in more ways than one?:]
    Not having a national reliable statistic is proof of our collective stupidity. If we were in the God business, he would sell us off or fire us all!
    However if you have not already lumped me in the moa category, please don’t as i have long spoken to colleagues and other members of our church, that we shall still be first in heaven as the dead in Christ are proclaimed to be so by paul [the patron saint of all good fundamentalists [or is that an oxymoron??] I spent soem time in a parish where the vicar honestly believed the parish was evangelical [it had no parish outreaches, so go figure, lively [it was anything but compared to genuine joy and enthusiasm each sunday] and a mission church [it was so fooling itself about this too] My point being that if such a parish allowed it self to be described as that by its vicar then we will remain in great danger with no prophetic warnings being sounds of being spat out.
    I love my church and continue to see clearly the great potential; and so i look for the grace and mercy of God to wake us up to or impending travel by vomit ending. 🙂

    • You are correct, Paddy, about some of the limitations of these statistics (I noted some also in my post). I also appreciate many of your other points. Thanks for sharing your insights. Blessings.

  3. Hi Bosco
    Thanks for yet another ‘helpful’ post 🙂

    I particularly resonate with the point regarding liturgy. It is interesting to note that the same graph for the C of E shows the numbers start their rapid decline as soon as we moved away from the 1662 book of COmmon Prayer as THE liturgy of the church

    I tend to think that 57 varieties lead us only to confusion and thus we stray . . .

      • Hi Bosco – the graph probably is online somewhere – it came from Peter Brierley who is the statistical wonk par excellence for the English churches. I was very struck by the timing of the start of the decline, and I grew up with endless reformation of the liturgy.

        I always thought this an interesting ‘co-incidence’ to point out when folk argued vociferously for ‘relevant’ forms of worship. ‘He who is married to the spirit of an age is rapidly widowed . . .’

        As to ‘only 57 varieties’, I’ve been a fully paid up Priest in the church of ‘or, or on the other hand . . .’ for the past 2 1/2 years. At least there are only three Great Thanksgivings – as opposed to the eight Eucharistic prayers in Common Worship!

        Insofar as there is a reason for decline – I think some of it is down to the fragmentation of the modern psyche. We are so confronted by Choice that psychologically we try and take it all. Church thus becomes one amongst many things the typical person is trying to juggle – (busyness is a symptom of the fragmented unrecollected self) – and, evaluated according to the modern Rule of usefulness (read ‘Relevant’) rapidly falls off the pile of ‘stuff I HAVE to do’ . . . only One thing is necessary??? Get Serious!!! 🙂

        Blessings

        Eric

  4. Kia ora Bosco,
    I do appreciate your reflections on the data provided. I suspect it reflects wider issues. For pakeha, a culture of collective identity via traditional institutions has evaporated post WW2. This is reflected in clubs, associations, and church affiliation and attendance. Sports engagement is a classic example of this. Cycling clubs struggle for membership, but at the same time cycling is booming as a participant sport via independently run events.

    At the same time, there has been a consistent presentation of a theology of exclusion by some parts of the church. This has received wide media attention and is often seen by the public as ‘the Christian position’. It is an easy theology to parody and reject.

    Put those two together, and the stats are no surprise.

    • Mike! Surprise! You have read my mind 🙂 I have just drafted a blog post that I’ll probably put up Friday – your comment should read “spoiler alert” for that. Blessings.

  5. I think your point that this is people who “say” they are Anglican is a very important one. We can be pretty sure that this is a far bigger number than turn up to regular service or are on parish rolls. So the most we can say from this is that fewer people feel obliged to say they are Anglican on the census returns.
    I want to say that is a good thing. There is a huge ‘dead weight’ burden on both sides in people feeling they are part of something that they are not really engaged in. For the church it creates a vague constituency who have a passing but at times vocal interest – witness the Christchurch Cathedral dramas. For those who not in the church there is a vague sense of guilt at not doing more.
    So I am all for people being more honest about their religious status and making it clearer for all of us.
    A few minor points:
    – I am not sure I understand your graph Bosco? Your degree in maths might have outdone my work experience in stats on this one 🙂
    – I think the Catholic church resilience comes from its strong network of schools (building a lasting social community) and significant influx of immigrants, and has much less to do with worship styles/differences

    And one final comment. The DomPost quoted +Justin saying the younger generation is not interested in church because they are more individualistic. This may have been taken out of context from what he said. But I have heard others say it. It may or may not be true in general. However, I know a lot of community minded, socially active younger people – and they won’t go anywhere near a church, because church is too individualistic and self centred. So before we start to point to speck in the eyes of those who don’t come in our doors, we need to have a serious look at our own planks.

    • Thanks, David.

      I would not tip the affiliation-but-not-participating too far. We are certainly negligent in not being able to say what number turn up to regular services or are on parish rolls. And the interest in restoring the Christchurch Cathedral IMO is not limited to Census Anglicans – remember it is the logo of our city you are talking about. Census Anglicans would volunteer and support the City Mission, and participate in the church’s mission, etc.

      The graph is not mine, David. The link to the source is directly below it. What is difficult to understand. Percentage that denominations have of the total population over time, the total Christian percentage, other religions, no religion…

      I agree about the strength of Roman Catholic schooling. I think the Catholic understanding that Sunday one goes to church, wherever one is etc., does impact. Anglicans are far more affected by worship styles and differences, will travel to a style that “suits” them more, and hence leave when the style no longer suits…

      I will try to find Bishop Justin’s quote (if you see it online, please put up the URL). I think you are right – many/most young people are not interested in the saving-my-personal-possession-soul as the primary goal of spirituality, and are more attracted to groups that clearly do things for others.

      My intention is to brainstorm reasons in tomorrow’s post. I hope you will be part of that brainstorming there.

      Blessings.

      Update: I have found the Bishop Justin reference:

      Anglican Bishop of Wellington Justin Duckworth said the Anglican Church had older adherents, and many had died since the last census in 2006.

      More needed to be done to connect with young people, but the church was up against a group that was individualist and not interested in long-term commitment to any institution. “People often say they are incredibly spiritual but they are wary of organised religion,” he said.

      The commitment point I have already planned to mention in tomorrow’s post. I am not sure what to make of “a group that was individualist” – it even sounds an oxymoron to me 🙂

      • The Christchurch Cathedral situation is probably a poor choice to illustrate what I was trying to say – not the least because I don’t live there. A better example is locally we have seen fewer people with limited church connections come along and say “we would like to have *our* wedding in *your* church” and then be quite put out when the implications of a church wedding is explained to them and our priest doesn’t agree it is just something they are just entitled to by some sort of birth right. I understand we still get these enquiries, but there is more chance for an open conversation about what is involved in a church wedding and whether that is really what they want. Not sure if that example works any better – but there is something about having a group of people who are church but not really church that I don’t think helps the situation either way. So great that people are making up their minds.
        Re the graph: I realised what confused me is a combination of the colours and having the “all christian” line in it. I read the “all christian” as Anglicans and that really didn’t make sense!
        Having worshiped for 12 years as a non-Catholic in a Catholic parish, I don’t read the same signs about the Catholic church with as much optimism as you do. But maybe that also varies around the country.
        I do find the parochialism of Anglicans puzzling and alarming. It is really the most parochial church I have ever been part of – and I have covered a few in my life. And yet the church has an enormous strength in welcoming all comers, even a lost, strayed, mixed up, high-church leaning, ex-Congregationalist like me. So go figure!
        Will save other thoughts for your next post.
        Interesting discussion in interesting times indeed.

        • Thanks, David. The marriage example is also complex. I think another way of looking at this is sadness and concern that the church no longer presents itself as a viable place for weddings or funerals. Funerals, even for practicing Christians, are coordinated not by the priest but by the funeral director and often held at their plant, not at church. We do not present ourselves as providing a place for inexpensive weddings where we will support and accompany you as a couple and family, including with deep spirituality, through your ups and downs of your whole marriage journey. I have written much about these things in the past, and a search in the search box of the site should bring up these thoughts. Are we there to serve others, or just a spirituality hobby club, if that? Blessings.

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