Census 2013: Catholicism Most Popular Religion in New Zealand Despite Growing Number of Non-Believers

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By Reissa Su | December 11, 2013 3:04 PM EST

More New Zealanders have become non-believers of religion, based on the latest Census 2013 figures. Christianity has lost hundreds of thousands of believers in the last seven years, while the number of non-religious Kiwis continues to increase.

According to Census 2013, 4 of 10 Kiwis have said they follow no religion which makes New Zealand one of the most secular countries in the world. The data revealed that a Christian majority in New Zealand is uncertain with less than 1.9 million Kiwis affiliated with a church compared to more than 2 million in 2006.

Paul Morris, a religious studies professor at Victoria University, said New Zealand was moving into "new territory" with Christianity no longer a prominent part of society. Mr Morris said Christianity is not the clear majority when it comes to religion since 1901.

The decline of the Christian population in the country has raised questions about the continued observance of Christian public holidays like Christmas and the church's place in schools. Mr Morris said Kiwis may ask if New Zealand is still a Christian nation.

With the members trickling away, Christianity may be facing a problem with older generations dying and new generations showing no interest in joining the Church. The lack of religion has been observed in generations as children grow up without following a religion and passed on their non-beliefs to their children.

The Anglican Church has lost almost 100,000 members with the total population down to 459,000. The sharp decline meant Catholicism has become the most popular religion in New Zealand with total population of 492,000 compared to 508,000 in 2006.

The Census 2013 revealed that most major churches have declining numbers. However, the Pentecostal church and other smaller evangelical institutions have managed to add more members to their respective churches.

Anglican Bishop of Wellington Justin Duckworth said the church had many followers, but many of them have passed away since the last census in 2006. Archbishop Duckworth said the church may have to do more to connect to the younger generation.

However, the church is in for a challenging road ahead as today's New Zealanders are reportedly individualistic and have no interest in committing to any religious institution. Archbishop Duckworth said people may say they are spiritual, but they are hesitant when it comes to organised religion.

Catholic Archbishop John Dew said Christianity continues to be a "big part of New Zealand life."

While the Census 2013 showed declining numbers in Christianity, other religions associated with migrants in New Zealand have increased in numbers. Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism have grown in great numbers with 89,000 of Hindus now living in New Zealand compared to 15,000 in 2006. 

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