Member Church Feature: Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ)

by CWM Communications Team

Introduction and History

The date of 1840 is the year generally given for the beginning of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ). It was in that year that the first systematic provision of a minister and church came under the auspices of the New Zealand Company. The Begnal Merchant arrived  on 20 February under Rev John McFarlane who was to establish the first settler congregation in the new colony.

The PCANZ is a cross-cultural and multi-cultural church with a bicultural commitment.

It is within the context of the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) that the Church recognises a bicultural partnership between Te Aka Puaho and its other church courts. These work together within the mission of God.

Immigration has, is and will continue to transform and contribute to the multicultural character of the Church. We stand in opposition to any view that  favours one culture over another. In affirming the Church to be cross cultural, the Church is also affirming the Gospel transcends culture and the Gospel creates community across cultures.

In addition, the PCANZ is a broad and diverse church. We include the widest spread in theological diversity; in ethnic diversity; in cultural diversity.

We are spread throughout the country. We are diverse in that some congregations are part of small rural communities; others in provincial New Zealand and others inner city or suburban New Zealand.  Pacific Island and Asian congregations add to our diversity with many of our Pacific Island congregations belonging to the Pacific Island Synod/Presbytery within our court structures.

About a quarter of our congregations are part of co-operating parishes – which the PCANZ has a partnership with – mainly – Methodist; but also Anglican and Christian Churches NZ.

The Present

On an average June Sunday about 26,000 adults and 5,200 young people and children worship at one of our 375 parishes. About 10% of the population goes to church on any given Sunday, and about 20% at least once a month, and we estimate that about 9% of worshippers are at a Presbyterian or Union parish.

Most Presbyterian parishes are small –about two thirds of parishes have less than 75 at worship. But most people belong to large parishes. Almost three-quarters of us worship with more than 100 others and almost one-third with more than 200.

The average parish had 83 people at worship. In 1951 it had 308. The drop in the number of times people go to church has been a significant additional reason why congregations are smaller. In 1961 the average person on the roll attended church 6.3 times a month, but by 2013 average attendance was 3 times a month, and declining further.  Parishes of all sizes grow and decline. A study of parishes shows large parishes are more likely to grow. Parishes with under 25 at worship have little likelihood of growing.

All parishes added and lost members on the roll, but the middle size parishes had the most pronounced losses. This was because they had a higher proportion of people who were removed because they had died. Only parishes between 200 and 300 at worship had an overall increase in their roll.

Parishes have two resources that make a difference – people and financial resources. While churches of all sizes have about the same number of people in leadership as a ratio of those attending worship, larger parishes have more hours particularly of voluntary leadership. This means they are able to undertake a wider range of activities. As parishes increase in size they put more of their time into youth, children and pastoral care.

Our relationship with CWM

In 1967 a service marked an act of commitment by five churches – Associated Churches of Christ, Anglican, Congregational Union, Methodist and Presbyterian. A plan for Union was formed but did not gain sufficient support to enable it to proceed. Various other attempts and votes for some sort of structural union were made over the years but this was never acceptable. In 1969, 28 ministers of the Congregational Union voted to join the Presbyterian Church. All Pacific Island congregations from the Congregational Union joined. The existing Congregational Union was shattered. For the PCANZ – two significant aspects of this were – we joined CWM and the PCANZ now had a Pacific Island identity. A significant contribution to the relationship between CWM and PCANZ was the financial support to establish Kids Friendly, an initiative that recognises the vital contribution children and families make to healthy congregations and aims to equip churches to intentionally minister to children and families.

Our life

Our Council of Assembly has worked on a Strategic Directions Paper to help us focus on the challenges. As a first step it reaffirmed Mission of the PCANZ under the five faces of mission:

The PCANZ believes it is called by God to work with others to make Jesus Christ known –

  • Through proclamation of the Gospel
  • Through the nurture and teaching of people in the Christian faith
  • Through response to human need in loving service
  • Through seeking to transform society
  • Through the care of creation

From there was identified key directions:

  • Mission Clarity
  • Mission effectiveness and accountability
  • Leadership
  • Being one Body
  • Delegating Authority
  • Financial Implications

A step in this was to review and rework our healthy congregation model – and this was reaffirmed by our Assembly last year. It affirms that a healthy congregation consist of four sets of relationships:-

  • With God
  • With the wider environment
  • With the wider Church
  • Within its own life

Two aspects of our life together

PYM (Presbyterian Youth Ministry)

Connect is the flagship youth ministry training event for PCANZ.  Connect is aimed at youth leaders, elders and ministers who are working with young people. It sees over 200 participants over a weekend and includes 4 keynotes, a choice of 30 workshops, Ted Talks, spiritual direction, and presbytery parties.


  1. To train and resource youth leaders.
  2. To inspire and equip youth leaders to work with the tremendous assets located within a young person’s whanau (community).
  3. To create and maintain relationships between Presbyterian youth leaders.
  4. To challenge and inspire youth leaders in their relationship with God.

Consistently those attending speak and demonstrate how they felt better equipped because of attending Connect; made positive new connections who can further encourage and  had grown in faith over the weekend.

Going Further – National Young Adults Discipleship Camp for 18 to 30 years old.


  1. For young adults to grow in their faith by exploring their place in God’s unfolding story.
  2. For young adults to explore rhythms and spiritual practices that will keep their life with Christ truly alive,
  3. For young adults to form life-giving friendships with other young adults who are walking the same path
  4. Again – those attending speak of how pivotal this is in their faith journey

Press Go

Press Go works with congregations to access missional capacity and work with them to re-imagine their present and future.

Three key aspects:

  1. Inspiring Mission.
  • Telling stories of best practice; what is working and is not.
  • Communicating inspiring mission ventures to the wider church.
  • Facilitating gatherings to equip missional leaders.
  1. Building capacity

Providing core professional assistance to congregations interested in considering their future, including: Assistance to develop a vision for the future;  A strategy for achieving that vision and;  Helping find the skills congregations need to implement it.

  1. Seed funding

Enabling the church to be at the forefront of innovative mission is not just about adding numbers to our existing congregations. It includes creating new communities of faith for those who don’t go to church.

Our Challenges

  • Multi-cultural incorporation – at all levels.
  • Investing and growing capacity of missional leadership – both lay and ordained.
  • Earthquake building resilience issues – moving to develop a theology of people on the move with God, rather than settled church.
  • Gospel engagement with younger generation/s – move beyond the programmatic formula to wholistic engagement.
  • Mission-focused strategy – listening to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit and moving with God.

Looking to the future

As we reflect on these – we want to state some key theological points:

  • The Triune God is the agent of mission and transformation – not the Church.
  • The future of the PCANZ will rely as much on a willingness to be re-evangelized with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it will on our appropriation of organisational principles and Church growth strategies.
  • Decisions that are informed by the logic of the Cross may not be the same as those that are informed by sociological projections and cost-benefit analyses.
  • The Missio Dei is as messy and unpredictable as it is expansive. Strategic thinking must be harnessed to prayerful discernment lest we fail to hear what the Spirit is saying to us.
  • Reforming and renewing the PCANZ for mission should not be reduced to an endless diet of change and innovation and programmes.
  • The ongoing need to have confidence that we are resurrection people, empowered by the Spirit to be bearers and sharers of the Good News.

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