What does the Church have to offer?
Interviewer: Speaking of the Church, in the area of religion, what is there to turn to, when all else fails?
Rodney Macaan (Former Baptist pastor): I think one of the things that the church can really offer now, when it is working well, is two things.
One of things that the Church can offer when it is true to its message is a real hope for the future. People need that. There are a lot of people despairing now. But the second thing it can offer is community. A church when it is functioning well offers a real sense of community and mutual support for people. I believe that we have become more selfish as a society in recent years and people are feeling much more isolated. There is a desperate need for a new sense of community. I think the Church has got a lot to offer on that side of things.
Interviewer: You mentioned hope. How would that look?
Rodney: I think when people are seeing everything turn to custard around them then the sense that they are part of something bigger, that there is a God out there who is interested in them. It’s not pie in the sky when you die. That, actually, at its best is not a bad message. There is something good and wonderful beyond this world. This world isn’t all there is. I think that’s a great message.
Interviewer: I’ve heard a speaker say that New Zealand is quite a religious country and there is quite an upturn in occultism and New Age. Are some New Zealanders going towards that for their hope rather than the established church?
Rodney: I think they’re going to that looking for meaning in life. I think when life becomes harder materially…like New Zealand incorporated used to look after you from cradle to grave and life was very good in many ways. I think when a lot of that goes, and a lot of that has gone, the people start looking for meaning and significance in other ways. I think people have become more aware of the spiritual dimension of life and are looking for that.
Interviewer: There people out there who say we should shun materialism.
Rodney: People have seen the downside of going all out for materialism because the bubble bursts and a lot of people are left very empty. In fact, it’s quite interesting that some of the highflyers who hit major problems through the 1980’s, that sort of thing, their companies went bust and have turned to God, basically, and seem to much more satisfied people.
Interviewer: Can you mention anyone there?
Rodney: I couldn’t. I wouldn’t do that, not without their permission. But some very, very high-flyers. Some of the highest flyers there were in New Zealand and other countries.
Interviewer: How are people turning to the church these days? You talked about the message of hope and community. It seems that New Zealanders are not really embracing, going by statistics, the established church. It’s there, but people are more interested in other things rather than church and religious type activities.
Rodney: I think people are looking for reality and if they find it at the church, they’ll embrace it. If they don’t find reality in the church, they’ll ignore it. I think there is a very big challenge for the church this time.
If you go back a long time, maybe fifty years ago, a lot of people went to church. Church in many ways was solid, most probably a bit uninspiring, you are either Catholic or Protestant. Every Catholic church was the same, every Protestant church was pretty similar.
Then there became a disillusionment with that, and people started saying, why should we go to church? They left in droves in many ways.
What has happened is that the churches that haven’t adapted, and really started to communicate with people have died. Instead of the churches going on with a fairy even plateau of growth or staying the same at a certain percentage of society, what has happened is certain churches have experienced rapid growth. There are a lot of very strong churches now, but a lot of the more conventional churches that haven’t adapted have really died off.
I think the other things is you don’t have the people. People used to go to church because it was just the done thing to do. That simply doesn’t happen today. You don’t bother going to church unless it’s something you really want to do.
Interviewer: Are people becoming more honest?
Rodney: Yeah, I think so. They just don’t go church because it’s the done thing to door keep up appearances or anything like that. That simply doesn’t happen.
There are a number of churches that are very strong in New Zealand. Wellington Central Baptist, our own church, is most probably as strong as it has been in living memory.
Interviewer: Have the Pentecostal/charismatic churches grown because there seems to be more young adults there, whereas more conventional churches are for the older generation in that they stayed there and are diehard for their denomination.
Rodney: The Pentecostal/Charismatic churches are offering vision and are not afraid to say that there is more to this life than meets the eye.
Interviewer: Have the traditional churches been afraid to say that?
Rodney: Traditional churches have been turned apart by a huge questioning of their base beliefs and this sort of thing. [The liberal churches] are a dying part of the church because they have questioned so many of the beliefs and things that gave people real hope, and said this world is all there is and that’s it. They had nothing to offer people ultimately and they died. You could go around loads of churches where there has been this questioning. Not that it’s wrong to question, but where there has been a setting aside of our core beliefs, basically.
Interviewer: Do you think people are more attracted to something that’s more upfront, more defined and shaped, like the more contemporary churches have a ‘vision’.
Rodney: Yeah. The interesting thing is that the Pentecostal movement worldwide is the fastest growing non-militaristic movement in history and there has been affair amount of growth in New Zealand as well.
The church scene s much more uneven than it was. A lot of the traditional churches have hit hard time and died off. A lot of them are very good coffee bars and that sort of thing.
Interviewer: It is interesting why the Pentecostal churches are growing. Is that because of the experiential factor?
Rodney: I think the experiential factor is a huge part of it and they present much more of a vision. They present much more of a vision of a God who is interested in people and who wants to have an involvement in their lives. For most people that is much more attractive than getting up and saying most probably there isn’t a God in a church. Effectively that is what some of the churches message has become. Really, we got it all wrong. There isn’t a God, so we better make the best of things ourselves, basically. But when people have been stuffing up themselves and seeing people around the stuffing up that’s not terribly attractive.
The recording ended up there, as the tape had run out, so this is how the transcribe ends.
[Interview recorded in 2000]