25 Jan, 2024 Application from the Bible Society’s new data
New data from the Bible Society on religion in NZ
Great data. What next?
The Bible Society’s “Bible Engagement Survey – 2022/2023” is a superb piece of research, bringing valuable information to God’s Church.
- You can find and view it at https://biblesociety.org.nz/survey-2023/
I suggest the point of data like this is to learn – so we adapt. So, to move from data to possible leadership directions, what might some of the most logical ‘outcomes’ be?
Here is my summary of application points – in response to what I perceive the data to ‘say’.
1. In noting that Christianity is still the largest religion in NZ by far (41%), we’d be wise to start talking about this more clearly and boldly in the public square – and especially given the possible increase percentage identifying specifically as ‘Christian’!
Consider the following – in relation to all of my ‘action point’ suggestions below.
- 80% of Pacifica peoples, and 71% of the over 65s identify as ‘Christian’.
- 38% of those aged 13 to 14 identify as ‘Christian’ – which is remarkably high!
- In nearly all age groups the percentage of people who identified as ‘Christian’ increased between 2017 and 2022.
- To note a gap, while 38% of age 13-14 and a shocking 46% of age 15-18 identified as ‘Christian’, only 14% of age 19-24 did.
Global cultural trends are in play – which at one time pushed the public aware from our faith. These might now push the public TOWARD our faith. This is a natural reaction to the over-reaches of the Left on the global platform, including a growing array of legislation that further inhibits personal freedom.
Talking more boldly and clearly about our faith with expectation of a positive reception, is an action step we could take. Public sentiment, believing ‘the Christian voice shouldn’t be silent’ is growing.
To note it, ‘other religions’ is a very small part of the population (9%), while the rest are ‘unsure’ (19%) or believe ‘there is no God’ (24%).
As a subsidiary application point, talking more about WHY we believe our faith to be true is a clear needed response, noting wider data on the attrition of young adults from churches – reflected in the above summary of age groups. This needs doing with all age-groups – to educate all. This can then filter to the young – to give them reasons for faith, balancing out the religious call of atheistic evolutionism (which requires unlimited faith in random chance accidence to line up systematically, to create irreducibly complex things)
2. Christian leaders would be wise to now affirm that New Zealand actually is a ‘Christian nation’ – contrary to the way we responded to this matter 20 years ago.
I suggest our assessment and response in ceding to the suggestion we were ‘secular’ no ‘Christian’ 30 years ago was maybe needed then – but isn’t now. The conversation has shifted.
For the point – if who we are as a nation is measured by values and history, we are definitely ‘Christian’ – as contrasted with being atheistic, Islamic, Buddhist, Taoist or Hindu.
We are in a time when a growing number of secular academics are making this point. Church leaders should not be silent.
In validation of this point, we would be wise to study our own cultural history – which both we and the wider population are now largely ignorant of. Christianity is the predominant influence. It is now very much in our interests that we now learn and tell those stories.
3. There is more positivity toward our faith in this nation than might be assumed were public media and education our only measure
20% attend church monthly or more, another 5% bimonthly, and another 20% when you include special occasions. That’s 45% happy to go through the doors. This is truly remarkable!!!
I suggest that, as a trend, it would be safe to say the public are NOT believing everything they are told through public media. We should take comfort in this.
We’d be wise to engage more proactively within the public square, while actively learning and esteeming communication skills suiting the public setting – as distinct from church settings. I would also note that these skills are specific – and not to be confused with going ‘silent’ in the public square, as has been the practice of so many church leaders these past 30 years. (There is a validation here in the data to speak more about our message, the histories and the Bible)
For some key statements:
- The dominant narrative seeks to tell us we are an outdated and irrelevant subgroup within our culture.
- In reality, if not for our faith, our culture wouldn’t exist at all like it does – and in the most important ways!
- This faith is the ‘prize piece’ and primary defining characteristic of our culture!
- There is a truly BIG story here to understand, uncover and tell.
- This needs far more effort from denominational, organisational and local church leaders.
- This needs funding too (though funders first need to find those with a vision to fund).
4. There is more positivity toward the Bible than we might think, which makes it a book we’d be wise to reference more – because this could feed a dynamic into public culture, positively affecting public perspective.
53% of NZers own a Bible. 42% of NZers say the message of the Bible influences their behaviour. Views toward the Bible are, on the whole, very positiive. Similar to the prior point, there is more positivity toward our faith that we might think on the basis of the tone of public media and education. Were we to have greater confidence, we might ‘see’ differently – resulting in types of innovation that few might consider or prioritise right now.
5. With a larger number attending church monthly than expected (25%) and another 25% finding themselves at church by some means each year, there is a significant ‘ready audience’ in the public square who might support good Church causes and initiative – were we doing any.
We fund local churches – but not united work that connects at the city level.
We fund workers for local churches (called pastors, vicars and reverends), but not for united Church work in the city or nation.
If I put my ‘marketing’ / public communications hat on for a moment, there is a distinctly positive audience and dynamic we could leverage in our cities if we desired – yet that will only ever be leveraged if we think and deploy differently. We need to function ‘as one’ (Philippians 1:27)! I suggest most have not even imagined what that would look like (while we at the Shining Lights Trust have plenty to offer on this topic – because that’s our job!)
6. With the vast majority recognising Christmas (68%) and Easter (77%) are Christian festivals – and 65% agreeing the true meaning of these seasons has been watered down, we have a greater cultural opportunity to do things that gain audience and to speak in these seasons than we realise.
The fact that so many agree the meaning of these seasons has been watered down is itself an invitation to act! They would welcome and support that kind of innovation.
If we are to tell our story, we also have a clear CULTURAL platform here – in which a great number would defend our right to speak. This isn’t something we should overlook. Strategic innovation – requiring funding and manpower deployment, logically follow.
In summary – well done to Bible Society on some fantastic data. This is needed.
What are we going to take away from it?
My conclusion are as above. What do you think?
DAVE MANN. Dave is a networker and creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing and also being valued in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and has coordinated various national nationwide multimedia Easter efforts purposed to open up conversations between church and non-church people about the Christian faith and its significance to our nation’s history and values. Dave is the Producer of the ‘Chronicles of Paki’ illustrated NZ history series created for educational purposes, and the author of various other books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last” and “The Elephant in the Room”. Married to Heather, they have four boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.