Is recent emphasis on “missional thinking” making a Kingdom difference? Alan Vink, National Director at Willow Creek Association NZ,
recently shared some sobering statistics concerning Christian realities in Aotearoa NZ. He was the opening speaker at the ENGAGE Evangelism Conference in Tauranga, September 2 - 3 2016. By sharing the raw data with the church and parachurch ministers present, Alan wanted to encourage us to reassess how we are doing and therefore what we are doing to extend God’s kingdom in Aotearoa (and, by association, beyond).
Having “done the numbers”, Alan placed the number of churches in NZ at around 3,000. According the data he had access to (presumably the last NZ census), 10 to 12% of our 4.7 million NZers “regularly” attend a church, of any type. “Regular”, Alan clarified,”is about once every three weeks”. More number-gymnastics followed to expose how infrequently “regular” church goers are exposed to communal Christian life, potentially missing out on transformative disciple-forming teaching, worship and fellowship.
The point Alan rammed home was that the percentage had not changed in decades. His research showed a very short lived rise during the charismatic renewal of the 70’s/80’s but attendance soon returned to around the 10% mark. For all the resources poured into outreach efforts and community ministries, all the new churches planted and mega churches grown, and all the immigrant believers bolstering city church numbers, the percentages remain consistently low.
Furthermore, Alan noted that conversion rates (as determined by recorded baptisms) are even more lamentable. Selecting a reasonably representative denomination, he reported that in 2015 225 ‘average’ sized churches in this denomination baptised 500 people—that’s just over 2 per church per year. He claimed that 70-80% of the NZ population is now beyond the reach of a gospel witness. Drawing on research by Nick Thompson of Auckland University, Alan identified the most gospel-resistant sector as “middle-class NZ” declaring, “affluence is a clear barrier to the gospel.”
How are we doing? For all our community outreach initiatives and so called “missional” thinking, apparently we have a long way to go and much prayerful rethinking to do. Future mission from Aotearoa NZ is contingent on this situation changing.