Christianity in New Zealand

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Christianity in New Zealand

Christianity in New Zealand dates to the arrival of missionaries in the early 19th Century, and is the country's primary religion. A number of denominations are present, with none having a dominant position. Today, slightly more than half the population identify as Christian.


In the 2006 census, around 55.6% of those who answered the question on religion identified themselves as Christian. This gives a total of slightly over two million Christians in the country. The largest denominations were Anglicans (about 14% of the population), Catholics (about 12%), Presbyterians (about 9%), and Methodists (about 3%). Around 5% of the population identified themselves as Christian without associating themselves with any particular denomination.


Generally, the proportion of New Zealanders who identify as Christian is declining — the figure now stands at around half the census respondents, whereas in the 1991 census, it stood at around three quarters. If the decline continues at a similar rate, Christians will cease to be a majority within a decade.

Different denominations are experiencing different trends. Anglicanism and Presbyterianism are both losing adherents, while Catholicism is gaining them, although not fast enough to match population growth.

Geographic distribution

The three largest denominations are found in all parts of the country, although certain patterns exist:

  • Anglicans are strong in Christchurch (which was founded as an Anglican colony). They are also strong in most areas of the North Island outside Auckland and Wellington, and in most parts of the upper South Island.
  • Catholics are strongest in the major urban areas of Auckland and Wellington. They also have a significant presence in parts of Taranaki, in Kaikoura, and on parts of the West Coast.
  • Presbyterians are strong in Dunedin (founded as a Presbyterian settlement) and other parts of the lower South Island, reflecting heavy Scottish settlement in the area.
  • The city of Auckland, due to its high immigrant population, has the greatest range of denominations.

Official status

Christianity does not have any official status as a national religion in New Zealand. Queen Elizabeth II, although Supreme Governor of the Church of England, exercises this capacity in her role as monarch of Britain, not her constitutionally separate role as monarch of New Zealand. The Anglican Church in New Zealand (today a separate institution from its parent) is not an officially established church.

A poll result released on June 17 2007 and conducted by Research New Zealand and involving 500 respondents from across New Zealand, found that the majority of New Zealanders were opposed to any such official status being granted. 58 per cent of people disagreed with making Christianity the official state religion and two thirds of people polled want schoolchildren to be taught about all the world's religions.

Ecumenism and Cooperation

There is very little sectarianism in New Zealand, and various churches commonly co-operate on issues of common interest. The main body working for cooperation and ecumenical relations across denominations is the Vision Network of New Zealand, headed by Glyn Carpenter. Vision Network often submits on government policy and legislation relevant to the church in New Zealand, including the Civil Union Act 2004 and the National statement on Religious Diversity. Other groups promoting cooperation include the Uniting Congregations of Aotearoa New Zealand, and church leaders have issued joint statements on a number of issues (for example, on the Iraq War).


The first Christian missionaries came to New Zealand at the start of the 19th Century. The Church Missionary Society, an Anglican organisation, established a presence in New Zealand in 1814 with the permission and protection of Ngā Puhi chief Ruatara. This expedition was led by Samuel Marsden. Later missionaries brought other religious denominations — Jean Baptiste Pompallier played an important role in establishing Roman Catholicism, and Presbyterianism was brought to New Zealand largely by Scottish settlers. The Maori people also created their own forms of Christianity, with Ratana and Ringatu being the largest.

Although there was some anti-Catholic feeling in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this declined after the 1920s. Sectarian groups such as the Orange Order continue to exist in New Zealand but are now virtually invisible, and New Zealand's first Catholic Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, took office in 1935.




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