A New Zealand newspaper reports that mainstream churches in the country are struggling to maintain membership numbers while churches once labeled fringe churches are growing. There is great diversity in the types of churches that continue to grow, crowding out other more traditional faiths.
The article cites two very different religions, whose meetings are extreme opposites. City Impact Church is a mega church with pulsating lights, big screen tvs, rock music, backup singers, and a pastor who shows pictures of himself and his wife sipping alcohol on their vacation to Fiji. This church is growing rapidly in New Zealand.
At the same time, the reporter notes a worship service of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes nicknamed Mormons. This meeting is very quiet. The chapel fills, as does the overflow area. Entire families come dressed in their Sunday best to a simply decorated chapel and sit reverently throughout the service, which is carried out by members of the congregation. Mormons have a lay church and everyone helps. Even the prayers and the sermons are given by members ages twelve and older in turn. There are no flashing lights, no rock music, no backup singers, and no multimedia. The lighting comes from ordinary overhead lights and the music is provided by a traditional organ. Speakers use natural and quiet language to convey a spiritual message and there are no slideshows of vacations.
At the meeting attended by the reporter, one of the speakers happens to be famous. Famous speakers, however, are treated the same as any other church member. Most Mormons speak about once a year. This speaker, former model and actress Elizabeth Skeen, is discussing how she left the church for ten years, thinking she could have a better life without all the rules of moral behavior. She realized she was wrong and returned two years ago, marrying a man who became a member of the church the day they were married. She testified that her new life, which includes a blended family of her children and his, is possible only because of the Savior’s atonement.
“In the last Census, three of the five largest Christian denominations recorded a drop in numbers. Furthermore, there was an overall decrease in people affiliating with Christian religions.
And although people may tick the box on Census night to confirm the religion they were born into, in reality many of them never go near a church or support it financially.
Numbers in traditional churches have been gradually dwindling since the late 60s. By contrast, the number of people affiliated with the Sikh religion, Hinduism or Islam recorded significant jumps in the last Census” (Geraldine Johns, It’s a Party in the Pews, The New Zealand Herald, December 16, 2013).
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.