Past 7 years in the New Zealand Church
Our February/March 2001 issue marked seven years since Reality magazine was first published. That seven years has seen some significant changes in our churches. In an attempt to 'take the pulse' of the church over that period Reality ran a one-question survey.
We asked a number of 'church observers' from a variety of backgrounds to comment on what they believed were "important aspects of change over the last seven years". We have catalogued the answers we received under various topic headings. It all makes rather interesting reading!
Toronto and Pensacola
"It was especially interesting to see how suddenly the Toronto phenomenon came upon us and how equally suddenly (and quietly and completely) the whole thing was 'yesterday'."
"The impact of the Toronto Blessing, Pensacola revival and the "gold dust" phenomenon has been transitory in the larger scheme of things."
"There has been in the past seven years a longing for revival which may have been fuelled by the many people who travelled to Pensacola."
"Interest in the Toronto blessing and the revival at Pensacola was fleeting."
"The highly successful VISION NZ congresses drew Christians together from across the whole of the denominational spectrum."
"There is increased evidence across New Zealand of churches wanting to work more closely together."
"Ecumenism is an issue of importance and challenge, especially as it relates to the Catholic church."
Gender and Homosexuality Issues
"There continues to be an ongoing awareness of homosexuals in the liberal 'wings' and a sense that ultimately, it is likely that these issues will come to have a bearing on the rest of us too."
"The conservative evangelical church still has to face seriously the gay issue and related moral/sexual issues, which mainstream churches have been wrestling with for a long time now."
"Incredibly, the gender issue continues to be controversial in several conservative churches."
Changes affecting denominations
"There has been significant growth in some non-charismatic congregations - especially some churches with Brethren connections."
"Association with the Willow Creek phenomenon (eg Willow Creek seminars) has resulted in denominational 'fences' being bridged to the point that many Willow Creek style churches have more in common with each other than with other churches in their own denominations."
"Pentecostal national attendance figures have plateaued and there has been a gradual increase in Baptist attendance figures so that the Baptists will soon have the largest number of Protestant church attenders in New Zealand."
"There has been a growth of larger churches in smaller places and a rise of 'regional' churches in urban and rural areas."
"The rise in the number of 'ethnic' churches,1 particularly in Auckland, is the only thing keeping most denominational attendance figures up. Without these churches, most denominations would be in decline. That is to say: there is no evidence of revival being near or even on the horizon."
"Alpha courses have popped up all over the place crossing denominational barriers."
"Doing the 'small group' thing well has continued to be a challenge and only a small number of churches have made the journey into Cell Group Churches."
The relevance of the church to wider society
"The church continues to be largely irrelevant to wider society. Its inability to speak meaningfully into contemporary issues is ever more apparent."
"Most churches continue to be unable to get conversions and to have even greater difficulty making disciples out of the few converts we do get."
"Where are the prophets in the New Zealand church?"
"The wider community is more interested in issues of spirituality than ever before - and more ready to listen to Christian perspectives - but they are uncomfortable with the church. This means that Christians need to learn to speak to unbelievers in ways that are affirming of their spiritual quest without conveying the impression we are scalp hunting."
"The concept of 'seeker services' has been a largely unsuccessful experiment."
"There remains a great need in New Zealand for an intelligent 'middle ground' between the fanaticism and banality of fundamentalism on the one hand and the bankruptcy of post-Christian liberalism on the other. At times of spiritual crisis, such as we face today, fundamentalism seems an attractive alternative for many - it provides security and reassurance - but it is a deeply inadequate and immature response. For many people, who have been burned by fundamentalism but who are not attracted to the aridity or cultural compromises of radical theological liberalism, there seems no alternative. This is tragic. Where are the representatives of a thoughtful, compassionate, intelligent and socially radical middle way?"
"Over the past seven years there has been a significantly large number of pastors/ministers who have burnt out or been forced to leave church leadership for moral reasons."
"Those in church leadership are largely failing to address the serious crisis the church faces."
"I have devoted my life to trying to change the church by presenting alternative ideas to church leadership. Over the last few years I have had to admit that this approach simply hasn't worked. Maybe what the church needs is a bit of healthy competition. Perhaps when leaders are threatened by viable alternatives they will change."
"The church continues to haemorrhage in numbers."
"Unchurched Christian faith is a growing phenomenon."
"Thousands of Christians no longer find any significant home in standard churches. These people tend to be amongst the most intelligent and gifted of the fold. Once church ceases to be a part of their life, it's hard to see it becoming so again."
"There is a growing awareness among Christians of church leavers and of emerging alternative groups."
"People under 30 years of age are more and more noticeable by their absence in church."
"The number of committed believers who find church irrelevant grows steadily." "There is now a large number of Christians who have lost confidence in the organised church but still maintain their faith."
"As people leave formal church settings, but remain avowedly Christian, questions are raised both for them and the body politic, about how a public witness may be best sustained. There are major implications here, I believe."
"Churches that think the answer to the problem of people leaving the church lies simply in matters of 'style' (more contemporary music etc) fail to realise how deep-seated the malaise is."
Signs of the times
"Post-modernism is having an increasing impact on New Zealand churches."
"The Internet has allowed a connection between churches and a sharing of church resources."
"With Government funding support currently available, there are now greater opportunities for theological/biblical study."
So that was the last seven years. What changes will the next seven years bring?