As those with no religion overtake Christians in NZ Census, church leaders confirm findings

Church leaders believe the latest Census data on religion reflects a more honest New Zealand.

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The number of people identifying as Christians has officially dropped below the number who have no religion.

The 2018 Census revealed the number of people identifying as Christians has officially dropped below the number who have no religion.

Up until the 1990s, more than 70 per cent of New Zealanders identified themselves as Christian.

According to the 2018 Census, 38.2 per cent of the country now identify as Christian, down from 45.59 per cent in 2013. The number of people who indicated no religion sat at 49.02 per cent.

A graph illustrating New Zealand Census data of those identifying as Christian and those identifying as having no religion. Source: Statistics NZ data/1 NEWS graph

The results are believed to reflect a more considered response from individuals.

"Rather than leaning back on belief systems that are inherited from grandparents or teachers or elders, I think we're getting to a place [where] we’re actually honest whether we hold these beliefs or not," St Paul's vicar Johny Grant said.

"A lot of the Christian influence in New Zealand has been a sort of indirect kind of influence where people like to have a religious connection but the number of people actually going to church has never been particularly high," religion expert Peter Lineham added.

A survey by the Wilberforce Foundation, which supports faith-based organisations, conducted around the same time as the Census, backed their findings.

"We know from the work we do at the Wilberforce Foundation that around nine per cent of New Zealanders go to church every week," Wilberforce Foundation advisor Chris Clarke said.

The largest strand of Christianity today is Catholicism, which Mr Lineham said has been "renewed by migrants".

While numbers are declining in all traditional denominations, church leaders who spoke to 1 NEWS said they were unconcerned by the Census results.

"I think it allows us to actually explore the meaning of life in a much more honest way," Mr Grant said.