Religious affiliation

SD Sophie Davies Public Seen by 441

Data on religious affiliation has various uses. It is used to trace the changes in values and belief systems in New Zealand society and to assess the need for various types of religion-related or religion-sponsored services. Māori, Pacific peoples, and other ethnic groups also use the data as this information is an important aspect of their culture.

However, religious affiliation is frequently identified as a variable of decreasing relevance, most recently in consultations with key census users for the 2013 Census.

There are several reasons why people question the ongoing relevance and inclusion of religious affiliation in the New Zealand Census. Firstly, census data on religious affiliation is not widely used by government agencies or deemed highly important for policy development, evaluation, or monitoring. Secondly, New Zealand is becoming increasingly secular, with just under half of the population either stating they have no religion or that they object to answering the question.

However there is a continuing demand for this data from religious organisations, academic researchers, Māori and Pacific communities, and the media. Without census data on religion, any changes in this significant cultural area would be difficult to monitor.

Our current recommendations relating to religious affiliation

  • We recommend that religious affiliation be included with no changes in the 2018 Census.

See our preliminary view of 2018 Census content (pages 25-26) for a more detailed discussion on religious affiliation information

See 2013 Census information by variable for information on the religious affiliation variable


Phil (Facilitator) Wed 29 Apr 2015 9:46PM

Nau mai haere mai.
Welcome to our Loomio discussion about the measurement of religious affiliation in 2018 census. We are really keen to hear your views about this important topic and to understand what matters to you and why. I'm Phil Walker and will be facilitating this discussion. I look forward to engaging with you all over the coming weeks.


Dan Martin Thu 30 Apr 2015 1:09AM

I believe this question on religious affiliation is important on a number of fronts. First it tracks the changing nature of religious (or non -religious) belief of New Zealanders which no other survey does. This helps us understand our changing collective identity which is very important. Secondly, because it provides low level data, it informs local communities how to best support it's different religious groups. I think this is a vital and very useful question to remain in the Census.


Amala Wrightson Thu 30 Apr 2015 3:52AM

I agree. For minority religious groups such as mine (Buddhists) it is useful to know how many people identify as Buddhist. I'd like to see more detail -- many "denominations" are listed for Christians, but not for Buddhists. Even having the three main branches of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana would be helpful.


Max Dillon Coyle Fri 1 May 2015 1:08AM

Kia ora Phil, I agree this is important to track and should be included in the census as NZ's traditional religious affiliations decline. I do think it is essential that the inclusion of Jedi, Pastafarians and other secular religions are included should they meet the numbers threshold. Arbitrary decisions based on which imaginary being is more official is untenable.


Phil (Facilitator) Fri 1 May 2015 4:57AM

These are interesting points - what do others think?


Chris Squire Sat 2 May 2015 3:25AM

Is it just me or are the very bland and inclusive messages from Phil from a real person or an automated response? I find them quite useless - I wouldn't bother with these.


[deactivated account] Sat 2 May 2015 9:13PM

Religion has always been an important category, and I think we need to be as fine-grained here as people want to be. This is especially important as we move towards being the most secular nation on earth.


[deactivated account] Sat 2 May 2015 9:22PM

To me, not permitting Jedi as a an option last census was a mistake. If people want to identify as Catholic, despite not going to church on Sundays, we let them tick that box and assuage their guilt by saying that they are still a Catholic. Same thing goes for the Anglicans, despite no sign of any of them actually attending church more than once a year. But they have a belief in a religious system that they feel a part of.
The notional move to secularism however does not mean that we are a wholly irreligious people however, and Jedi is a prime example. Marking yourself as Jedi does not mean that you are just a fan of Star Wars, but is more about not believing there is an old man with a beard on a cloud, casting judgement, but more that there is some Life Force within living things that cannot be fully explained by science. Being Jedi is not the same as agnostic. We should recognize it as a category that people may want to identify with. Rumour has it, that it got many, many adherents in the census, but was effectively shut down as these were presumed to be a joke. It's not a joke - its a serious alternative to a Christian based belief system.


Kay Sun 3 May 2015 7:17AM

People can be a member of more than one religious group and should be able to claim their affiliations. Also Statistics shouldn't privilege some religions over others, e.g. recognising Catholics but not Druids or pagans.


Jonathan Godfrey Sun 3 May 2015 10:18AM

There is considerable scope for improvement in this question: for starters, not confusing terms or lumping them together without due care for standard definitions. For example, the last Census lumped together "Atheist" with "Agnostic" - these terms are most definitely not synonymous and it is most improper to suggest that they are. Atheists argue that God does not exist, whereas Agnostics are uncertain or non-committal about it (some suggest that they sit on the fence, with Atheists on one side, Theists on the other). I would suggest that these two terms be separated out and never mixed together again.

Taking into account other comments (Amala's in particular) another possible improvement would be to have a series of tick boxes that have a free-text field associated with it, in which people as asked to insert their denominations. Thus Amala would be able to tick "Buddhist" and write in the particular denomination, just as I could tick "Christian" and write in "Catholic".
A tick box for "Other" could allow for a wide range of responses in it's associated free-text box.


Phil (Facilitator) Sun 3 May 2015 10:41PM

Responses to the religious affiliation seem to have been changing relatively fast over the past few census, with just under 30% saying they had 'no religion' in 2001 rising to just over 40% in 2013. Will this trend continue, or will it plateau? Or, as you say above Guy, will new religions such as Jedi emerge? How important is it to us as a society to monitor these trends?


Reuben Jackson Sun 3 May 2015 11:14PM

Currently statistics are recorded for satanists, wicans, Rastafarian etc. Also more "recent religions" like "scientology" and "destiny church" have been recorded. "Jedi" has been answered "legibly" by the NZ population since 1991 (if not before). Unofficial numbers have been released on Jedi, but never officially. I have paid for this data in the past. The NZ based Jedi church www.jedichurch.org has a worldwide following of 9000+ members. The NZ Jedi Society is a registered society, seeking to raise funds for a temple. The purpose of Statistics NZ collecting data is to help different religions with the statistics they need to help determine where new churches should be built, or how to target their education. It is not the role of Statistics NZ to determine the validity of a religion, otherwise we would have arguments between Muslims, Jews and Christians, (And they all believe in the same God.... ), let alone other religions... I believe NZ statistics need to simple count the Jedi answer, and treat that answer with the same respect they do for Satanists, Rastafarians and Wicans...


Reuben Jackson Sun 3 May 2015 11:15PM

Here is the purchased Jedi data for 2006... we should not have to pay for that data. http://www.jedichurch.org/uploads/4448/files/NZStats2006.pdf


Max Dillon Coyle Sun 3 May 2015 11:15PM

I'd say its as essential as any other stat collection. Perhaps we would find it's time to remove the tax-free status of religious organisations since their membership was so low and secular affiliations made up the majority, either that or extend it to secular organisations, which would severely shrink the tax base.

Taking stock of the numbers could really shape the political landscape.


Reuben Jackson Sun 3 May 2015 11:20PM

In the 2006 census, the following religious data was counted with respect to the people who answered those questions...

Satanism 1,167

Rastafarianism 1,383

Zen Buddhist 78

Wiccan 2,082

Druid 192

Yoga 297

Is Yoga really a religion? I don't know, but it doesn't matter. NZ Statistics should count any answer that is legible. And if 20000+ people answer a very legible answer, then we can assume it is outside a margin of error... and if it happens in the last 5 census, being 1991,1996,2001,2006,2013, then i think we can discount it being a one off anomaly...


Reuben Jackson Sun 3 May 2015 11:37PM

Phil, I see a personal bias in your comment "will new religions such as Jedi emerge? How important is it to us as a society to monitor these trends?". 24 years after 1991 census, it is highly important to accept the emergence with the same speed as destiny church, and to monitor the ongoing trend. I know the data is important both to those who seek that data for direct usage for their religion, and also to educational institutions who monitor societal changes. You will be aware that Jedi data has been requested formally by university on a regular basis. With your use of the word "importance", is it the scope of statistics NZ to judge the "importance of religions"? Surely importance is based on demand for the information? Or in what meaning do you use the word importance? Are you aware of anyone who is interested in collating the number of Druids in our society? Are you aware of any thesis published that needed to know how many druids there are in NZ?


Phil (Facilitator) Mon 4 May 2015 12:08AM

You're right @reubenjackson , the importance of statistics tends to flow from the use that is made of them. Sorry, I didn't mean to give the impression that I was presenting a point of view, I posed those questions to stimulate discussion because this forum exists to reflect the range of views across the community. It's great to see people engaged!


Stefan Mon 4 May 2015 12:15AM

Many people put 'Jedi' as their religion as a joke, rather than because Jediism is a meaningful part of their lives (as religion is for many people). Including 'Jedi' as a separate option would likely increase the number of people selecting it. Because this is largely a social trend rather than a legitimate religious belief (although adherents exist, they are a minority of respondents), the data would be more a reflection of people's sense of humour instead of a representation of actual beliefs and associations.


Reuben Jackson Mon 4 May 2015 12:30AM

Hi Phil, in the intro, Statistics NZ have communicated their default position is to make no changes to the religious affiliation question. Please could you give some clarification as to what will happen following this forum? How will the feedback in this forum impact on the Stats NZ default position? e.g. with regards to previously "outside of scope" classifications, and the inquiry regarding giving multiple answers to the question. I heard recently that multiple answers were already possible for religion. How are multiple answers to religious affiliation currently dealt with in previous census?


Reuben Jackson Mon 4 May 2015 12:39AM

Stefan, i don't believe anyone is asking it to be one of the top 9 religions listed, just merely counted when written into the "other" box... It is perhaps unhelpful to make judgments regarding the seriousness of other peoples religions, and might only inflame debate in this thread.


Max Dillon Coyle Mon 4 May 2015 1:02AM

I agree with what Reuben said. I consider Christianity and all the monotheistic religions a joke. I don't think my view of their farcicality should impinge upon statistic collection though.


Philip Welshman Mon 4 May 2015 1:44AM

I am an atheist - has that been an option to tick on previous forms? I just can't recall.

I don't care if religious affiliation stays as an option, but would like to see the 'object to answering' stay...


Logan Witchall Mon 4 May 2015 11:34PM

If you list every Religion it would make the form 30 pages longer than previous years. I think if you have the top 10 answers based on the previous Census and a space between for individual branches of said Religion (eg, tick Christian and write Baptist under) and the 11th option being Other for people to put less known (or made up for comedic reasons) religions.


sarah (topic expert) Mon 4 May 2015 11:58PM

@philipwelshman 'atheist' has not been a tick option on past census forms but 'other religion' with a text box has been an option. You can find the 2013 census forms here: http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/info-about-the-census/forms-guidenotes.aspx


[deactivated account] Tue 5 May 2015 1:50AM

@philipwelshman - i thought all Welsh men were very religious? :) (just kidding)

@loganwitchall - not sure if you are aiming at Jedi when you say "made up for comedic reasons", but I assure you that Jedi is taken seriously by those who are...
...these are not the arguments you are looking for...


Logan Witchall Tue 5 May 2015 3:33AM

@guymarriage - Not at all! I just know of people that have put things in for comedy reason in the past cesus. I respect all religions. However your last sentence did make me laugh, in the reference sense.


Phil (Facilitator) Tue 5 May 2015 10:27PM

@reubenjackson asked about the role of this forum and the process for considering change to census.
A formal submissions process on census content will open on May 18 and run until June 30 this year. This formal submissions process will be important for anyone wanting to change the way census measures religious affiliation, just as this forum is important to help us understand the range of views across the community.
Broadly, census will need to balance the need to remain relevant against its' ability to track social changes over time.
Information on the census submissions process is available at
http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2018-census.aspx#formal default


Phil (Facilitator) Wed 13 May 2015 2:00AM

I see the NZ Herald has published an interactive map showing the relationship between religious belief and neighbourhood affluence as measured by the NZ Deprivation index.
The Herald says Auckland is becoming more religious while Wellington is the least, with 5 out of every 10 people in Wellington saying they had no religion.
View the interactive map at


Richard Egan Wed 20 May 2015 6:20AM

Tena koutou, my name is Richard Egan, work at Otago Uni (though my views are my own), and am interested in spirituality in healthcare/society (see http://spiritualityandwellbeing.co.nz/ for broader discussion paper). Davie suggested some time ago we live in a society that believes without belonging (ie. we believe in something without religious affiliation). I understand the ‘nones’ are the fastest growing group in the last census. What does this mean? Does it mean people have no beliefs or that the census isn’t sensitive enough to pick them up? (probably latter). So I hope we not only retain the religious question, but ask more questions. Exact figures vary, as we don’t have good population based stats on it, but probably only 10-20% of NZers to church, synagogue or mosque regularly. Yet from some points of view everyone has a spiritual framework (call it existential framework if you really dislike the ‘s’ word). So could we ask about attendance? Could we ask about beliefs and values, and a sense of meaning and purpose?


Robert Didham (topic expert) Wed 20 May 2015 9:27PM

Good morning Richard. I am Robert Didham, a topic expert, and also work with this data extensively. Thank you for your thoughts on attendance etc. The question asks for religious affiliation and intends to capture something different from attendance. Information on attendance at temples, mosques, churches etc and strength of affiliation are better suited to being asked in specialised surveys because they give the opportunity to gather more extensive and nuanced information. For some religions, formalised places of worship are either not a common feature or attendance is only associated with formal life-stage events or there are no local facilities. These factors would have an influence on attendance figures. The nones are those people who have indicated on the form that they have no religious affiliation. It is not quite correct to say that the nones are the fastest growing group and it is not certain, if the post-secularist literature is correct, that this category will continue to grow markedly. The group is growing a little faster than the population as a whole but [at plus 26%] not as fast as many religious affiliations. For example Sikhism more than doubled between 2006 and 2013. Other groups of religions that also grew faster included Hinduism, Islam, and, among some of the Christian-based religions, several of the evangelical and orthodox affiliations.


Richard Egan Fri 22 May 2015 1:07AM

Thanks Robert for you response. I'm mostly a qualitative researcher, so happy to accept all you say. I guess my fundamental question is, given the growth of the 'I'm spiritual but not religious' groups in society, is there a way at a national/census level, to capture some information about this area?


James King Fri 22 May 2015 3:19AM

I'd really like some sort of likert scale on how 'committed' someone is to their affiliated group. Perhaps a 1-5 scale from very nominal to very committed. This scale could have a mix of attendance, personal practice etc. More than affiliation, I think practice/commitment would provide a more useful indication of the 'state of religion' in NZ, and how this relates to socio economic status, unpaid work and volunteering


Phil (Facilitator) Fri 22 May 2015 4:02AM

@jamesking you may be interested in the questions asked in Te Kupenga the survey of Māori wellbeing which was attached to census 2013. Te Kupenga asked Māori:
How important is spirituality in your life?
o 11 very important
o 12 quite important
o 13 somewhat important
o 14 a little important
o 15 not at all important
How important is religion in your life?
o 11 very important
o 12 quite important
o 13 somewhat important
o 14 a little important
o 15 not at all important
How often do you attend religious worship services?
o 11 at least once a week
o 12 at least once a fortnight
o 13 at least once a month
o 14 several times a year
o 15 at least once a year
o 16 less than once a year
o 17 never

More information on Te Kupenga is available at :


Richard Egan Sat 23 May 2015 2:18AM

Kia ora koutou, as they say 'what's good for Maori is good for the rest of us'. Lets ask those questions for all populations! Also, I couldn't find the results of these questions on the website suggested - are they easily accessed?


Jessi Sun 24 May 2015 3:04AM

There are some very interesting and valid points in this discussion. It's disappointing however that contributions like those from Mr Coyle are snide and snarky. We all get that you have a problem with monotheism, but pull yourself together, man. You're an adult.


Phil (Facilitator) Sun 24 May 2015 9:24AM

@richardegan you can find results for the Te Kupenga spirituality and religion questions on pages 3-4 of the 1st Release which can be found at


olaf peka Thu 28 May 2015 9:11AM

please put a box for jedi in the religious question. It rates higher than many other religions.


Poll Created Tue 2 Jun 2015 10:46PM

Information on religious affiliation is needed at a neighbourhood level. Closed Fri 5 Jun 2015 8:07AM

There’s been agreement that religious affiliation needs to be measured, but how important is it that religious affiliation is measured at neighbourhood level?


Results Option % of points Voters
Agree 100.0% 4 K RD( JG FH
Abstain 0.0% 0  
Disagree 0.0% 0  
Block 0.0% 0  
Undecided 0% 5 SNM SD P L T

4 of 9 people have voted (44%)


Robert Didham (topic expert)
Tue 2 Jun 2015 11:04PM

The power of census is in coverage and change over time. NZ is a highly diverse country both demographically and geographically. Both dimensions are important in understanding society.


Jonathan Godfrey
Wed 3 Jun 2015 10:19AM

Such information would enable entities other than the state to plan their resources; e.g. Churches planning for where to build new schools


Frances Horton
Wed 3 Jun 2015 11:40AM

It's very important that belief affiliation is measured at neighbourhood level for reasons macro to micro. It's valid to continue Census enquiry about individual and confidential information such as this. Allow and list all legible answers.


Wed 3 Jun 2015 12:25PM

Local authorities may be more sympathetic to requests for respectful use of public facilities if they understood local value placed on them by particular groups. For example use of a small reserve in Wellington by a pagan group for gatherings.


Phil (Facilitator) Tue 2 Jun 2015 11:07PM

I've created a proposal stating 'Information on religious affiliation is needed at a neighbourhood level'

You can find it, and vote, at the top right of this page.
If you vote 'agree' then you are agreeing that religious affiliation needs to be collected at neighbourhood level, if you vote 'disagree' then you are not agreeing that religious affiliation needs to be collected at neighbourhood level.
If religious affiliation was collected in a sample survey rather than in census, we might get more information on people's connection to religion, and the link between religious affiliation and wellbeing more generally such as was done in Te Kupenga mentioned above - however we wouldn't be able to output below regional or at best major TA levels. Collecting religious affiliation in census allows us to output at neighbourhood level.

Proposals are being used to try and sum up the discussion and get a quick snapshot on what people’s views on this issue currently are.
Proposals are a way of not only checking where everyone is at with their thinking but drawing more people into the discussion.
You can find a guide of how to use proposals here
( https://www.loomio.org/help#proposals ).
Proposals are not being used in the 2018 Census engagement discussion as a final decision making tool.
The proposal closes on Friday June 5th at 8pm.
However the discussion stays open until the 10th of June.


Frances Horton Wed 3 Jun 2015 11:13AM

Hello contributors and facilitators, a very interesting thread! Just want to suggest one more reason for continuing to collect as much information in this field [as can be reasonably asked in Census without overburdening responders] is that NZ continues to be a peaceful nation where many beliefs [also non-believers and doubters] co-exist without overt violence.
This is a huge intangible asset we should treasure.
NZ may be a model society in this respect.
Even Tourism NZ might benefit from this. Visiting a tolerant society may be a valuable experience for youth groups from countries riven by sectarian violence.
I fully agree with Jonathan Godfrey's post regarding self-description of Belief and sub-set if applicable.
I'd prefer not to prefix it "Religious" because many reject that term.
Finally, Wiccans frequently practice alone: no church or temple, no priests, no attendance or tithe, no central authority. But devout in their spiritual practice.
Like the Society of Friends, [formerly Quakers] who maintain silence, spiritual beliefs are not openly stated, but they are still there. And hugely influential.
Overall, this societal knowledge is too valuable to lose.


Kay Wed 3 Jun 2015 12:37PM

Commitment is not the same as attendance. Many people attend a particular group or gathering for social reasons or because they get a ride there or its more accessible. Their affiliation to a particular faith may be different. My grandmother was an elder in the Presbyterian church through family custom, attended a Salvation Army group for the singing, and privately identified as an atheist (on her low days) or as an agnostic (when she felt more positively).

Similarly, I attend three faith groups that have buildings but I affiliate to another group with smaller numbers and no fixed space. If I knew of a local neighbourhood with more connections I may seek out another group. Mockery by others can make it more difficult to seek a new spiritual home.


Frances Horton Sun 7 Jun 2015 9:59AM

Hi Scarlett, agree your point: " Local authorities may be more sympathetic to requests for respectful use of public facilities if they understood local value placed on them by particular groups. For example use of a small reserve in Wellington by a pagan group for gatherings."
Agreed, and in the NZ Herald recently, referring to the use of public land by a group of Maori, the Auckland City Council were OK about them using it for a traditional Matariki Dawn ceremony.
No problem at all.
But I'm wondering if, say, a Wiccan group asked if they could use public land at a local park for a Dawn ceremony - would they be granted the same permission?
Maybe pre-Christian Maori traditional belief is more understood and accepted than pre-Christian European traditional belief?
I don't intend to raise contentious issues, only to illustrate how difficult it is in a multi-faith community to put people and their belief[s] into boxes with labels.
Freedom of belief is one of our core values.
I could really believe in that.


Frances Horton Sun 7 Jun 2015 10:17AM

Sorry, just one more question. Does the fact that fewer individuals are indicating belief in, or attendance at, an established religious entity NECESSARILY mean that we are becoming a SECULAR society?
If Census offers only mainstream church or religious entities, people who believe in something else entirely won't answer, but that doesn't mean they are non-believers. or without a belief system.
It means that Census is asking questions the wrong way, and getting incomplete answers back.
My informal observation is that while many remain cynical about all the established religions, they do believe in value systems. These have great utility.

Surely there's more to being secular than merely being godless. If being secular means that NZ is less likely to fall into sectarian violence and civil war, maybe being secular is more valuable than adhering to a religion?


Phil (Facilitator) Sun 7 Jun 2015 11:30PM

@franceshorton you may be interested that in Te Kupenga two thirds (66%) of Maori said spirituality was important in their lives, while just under half (45%) said religion was important.


Frances Horton Fri 12 Jun 2015 2:15PM

Thank you Phil. Interesting and valuable. It would be regrettable if future Census readers were unable to track changes such as belief in "spirituality" or "religion" over time and over generations.
I hope Census continues to enquire about - not just "Religious Affiliation" which is a more narrow enquiry, but "Belief or Spiritual practice" which is more inclusive and wider. Thank you.


James King Thu 18 Jun 2015 11:18PM

Interesting debate. I agree the Te Kupenga questions applied to the whole population would be most useful.

I recall analysis from the Church Life Survey a few years back that showed that denomination is far less meaningful than it used to be. People to use descriptors such as 'evangelical', 'reformed', 'petecostal', and even 'catholic' right across denominations, as this marked their identity more than their denomination.

Also, I think having more probing questions into the 'other' category would be useful. Pew research in the USA shows that very few are atheists, with most being agnostic, or believe in 'God' in their own way.


Phil (Facilitator) Mon 22 Jun 2015 2:57AM

There’s been some great discussion in this thread so far! I just want to encourage anyone who wishes to, please take advantage of our formal submission process before our engagement and consultation closes. All the discussions on loomio will be formally assessed but sending in a formal submission adds weight to your perspective on what census needs to do, or change, to meet information needs in this area.