This question comes up from time to time. Those arguing that it is admit the proportion of New Zealanders who are Christian is declining but claim it is still a majority.
A recent survey commissioned by the Bible Society (Bible Engagement in New Zealand) really doesn’t support this claim. Unlike the national census (which provides a wide choice of religions) this survey asked only “would you describe yourself as a Christian?” This survey of 3400 New Zealanders found 46% consider themselves Christian (45% answered no and 9% preferred not to say).
Of course, when you get figures like these close to 50% one can argue about how to deal with the “don’t knows” and “won’t says.” After all, one could make the situation look better by saying that 50.5% of those answering the question are Christian. This is often done with the census results. For example it’s often claimed that the 2006 census showed 55.6% of New Zealanders are Christian. But, more correctly, it was 55.6% of those answering the religious affiliation question, but actually only 51.2% of the total responses.
Double dipping also influences the figures. Apparently some Christians are so enthusiastic that belong to several different churches. I can believe that as I have a relative who used to attend two different churches each Sunday because it gave him two different experiences.
In 2006 140,000 New Zealanders claimed to be adherents of more than one Christian religion. This caused an overestimation of the proportion of Christians. When corrected for double dipping the 2006 census showed that:
53.1% of those answering the religious affiliation question were Christian, or
49.5% of the total population described themselves as Christian.
Take home message
So, although the 2006 census data are sometimes manipulated to claim almost 56% of the population are Christian, in reality only 49.5% were prepared to describe themselves that way. The 2008 Bible Society survey (46% Christian) appears to confim this.