A nationwide study of faith and belief has revealed both challenging and encouraging results for the public perception of Christianity in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The survey findings confirmed that the most effective form of evangelism in Aotearoa today comes from Christians who demonstrate Christian actions first, before sharing their faith in words.
59% of New Zealanders filling out the survey thought they would most likely be influenced to investigate faith by seeing others live out their faith. And if that faith was lived out while caring for people suffering from a personal trauma or life change, the impact of that Christian love and care went up. The survey also found that 54% of Kiwis were open to changing their religious views or exploring other beliefs.
The ‘Faith and Belief in New Zealand’ report has come from a Wilberforce Foundation commissioned survey carried out by Australian communications company McCrindle Research. The survey, which also draws on NZ Census records of religious affiliation, used online questionnaires to establish patterns of perception and belief across a group of 1007 respondents. The respondents form a representative population sample spread across age, gender and region.
Another positive find was the many respondents who viewed spirituality as a contributor to wellness. Just under half of those who completed the questionnaire (46-47%) said spirituality was important for wellbeing and mental health, and in the 18-25 age group that edged up to 50-52%, making it the majority view for the youngest age group surveyed.
Given religion in schools' bad press of late, religious education didn’t fare too badly in public attitudes. Over half those surveyed said religion and spirituality were not off limits for discussion by school students. However that was counterbalanced by the 45% who would prefer all religions covered, and the 48% who said exclusive Christian religious education presented a problem.
The survey questions aimed to pinpoint what the Wilberforce Foundation termed “belief blockers,” those aspects of Christian behaviour, belief or reputation that turned people off from pursuing the faith.
The most off-putting aspects came through as: sexual abuse that had occurred within the church (76%), hypocritical attitudes or behaviour displayed by Christians or churches (69%), churches’ negative attitudes on homosexuality (47%) and the perceived mismatch of proclaiming a loving God that would nonetheless send sinners to hell (45%).
On the whole, the result revealed that a surprising number of Kiwis had little or no contact with either the church or Christians.
Just under 10% knew not a single Christian, while a quarter knew less than two. That said, 60% of respondents claimed to know a moderate amount about the church while over one fifth knew nothing (22%).
Another statistic showed that over half of all respondents knew next to nothing of their local churches. Perhaps telling was that the poor result on local church knowledge was not necessarily due to an anti-church stance by the individual, as 51% held a neutral view of the church’s role in the local community.
Zooming out on the wider church, the majority (66-68%) of New Zealanders in the survey named the church as a positive contributor to the community on church responses in areas of: disaster relief, caring for the homeless and aged, and providing financial and food relief to the poor.
One disconnect in the summary report was a gap between its positive billing for Māori spirituality which received a 61% rating as an influence on values across all age groups, whereas the survey appeared to misplace self-identified Māori Christians. Along with separating Catholics and Orthodox Christians into a distinct category and in some cases, Anglicans and Presbyterians, this survey seemed to place responses of “Māori Christian” into the ‘other’ category.
The results contained hopeful news for Christians looking to share their faith with those beyond church walls. Of the non-Christians sampled, 26% were warm towards Christianity, while another 13% saw themselves as Christians, but didn’t currently make it to any church.
The final piece of good news was for the public perception of Jesus who received the best recognition rating of all.
92% of respondents knew about Jesus, 53% associated him with love, and the non-Christian focus group largely agreed that they saw Jesus as easy to relate to, approachable and gracious. The non-Christian group also considered themselves more likely to recognise Jesus through Christians whose actions spoke louder than words.
A full summary of the ‘Faith and Belief in New Zealand’ study report can be downloaded here.