New Zealand Methodist Church OnLine History
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New Zealanders and the Methodist Evangel

1. Introduction
2. Nineteenth Century Methodism
3. Methodism at its Height
4. After the First World War
5. Campaigning for a Spiritual Advance
6. Making Disciples References
Appendix: Methodist Statistics

1. Methodism in New Zealand 1850 - 1981, Gross Statistics
2. Wesleyan Methodism in New Zealand 1850 - 1911 relative to the
3. Primitive Methodism relative to the population 1850 - 1911
4. Methodism relative to the population 1850 - 1981
5. Changes in Methodist and Presbyterian adherence, 1891 - 1981
6. Changes in Methodist and Presbyterian membership, 1891 - 1981
7. Baptisms in the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, 1901 - 1981
8. New Membership rate of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches 1901 - 1981


Methodism began its history as a movement characterised by dynamic life, dramatic growth and effective evangelism. At this point of its history in New Zealand it seems to be in a condition of almost universal contraction. At the turn of the century Methodism reached its highest proportionate impact on the New Zealand community, when 10.9% of the population acknowledged themselves as adherents of the two Methodist bodies in the 1901 census. At that time 88.7% of New Zealanders adhered to one of the four largest churches, Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and Methodist. Eighty years later the relative support for this group of denominations has declined drastically to 62% of the population. Methodism's own decline is still more dramatic. Today it claims the support of 4.7% of the population; only 43% of its one-time impact. No other large denomination has experienced so drastic a collapse in its support.

Today the Methodist church is acutely aware of its crisis, for it is now apparent in the church's membership, baptism and attendance figures. Every aspect of the life of the church, financial, ministerial and theological, has been touched by the decline. In something of a reflex action voices at every level of the church have begun to urge the necessity of evangelism among their fellow New Zealanders. The novelty of their call is somewhat astonishing, for the first Methodist ministers were strictly enjoined by their beloved leader, John Wesley: "you have nothing to do but save souls". Evangelism was the very lifeblood of early Methodism. Somewhere in the subsequent events it was displaced, and Methodists found alternative preoccupations. Today Methodism has only a weak evangelistic tradition to draw upon, and the denomination itself has ossified into a rigid monument.

The sudden urgency in the current clamour for evangelism suggests that the crisis is of recent vintage. It is not. Even before 1901 the intelligent observer could have found unmistakeable warnings of a coming crisis. The Methodist conference has always diligently collected statistics relating to the denomination and their implications were clear. Indeed the leaders of the church early recognised the declining vigour of the church. This is a study of the evidence which they partially comprehended, and it is also an assessment of their attempt to shape policies to meet the problem. It is not intended to be a retrospective criticism. Obviously many of the circumstances shaping a denomination are beyond its control. But others are a matter of choice. Contemporary Methodists might well consider the lessons of their history.

In the past the policies of the churches in New Zealand have rarely been subject to this kind of historical analysis. Most denominational histories go into details of the successes of the church, not its failures. However ecclesiastical institutions cannot escape so lightly. Their internal politics and commitments, and their role within society must be a matter of importance to church historians, social historians and ordinary Methodists alike.


Massey University