At the recent School of Theology at Vaughan Park, the assembled Methodist Church leaders heard Professor Paul Spoonley from Massey University describe the present and substantial changes heading our way. Many of these changes are already presenting real challenges for our communities and to those who have to grapple with radically different local situations. As I listened it occurred to me that since local Church parishes are among the potential providers it becomes important that the parishes are alert to these changing populations and if they wish to continue to be relevant to their communities, a rethink will be needed.
In the next 10 years it is already clear that two out of every five New Zealanders will live in Auckland, with Asian communities on the rise and overtaking the Maori population. There will also be more in the over 65 bracket than in the 0-15 range. Two thirds of New Zealand regions will decline and there will be more marked differences between Auckland values and behaviours and those found in the declining regions.
With many immigrants from India, China and the Philippines Professor Spoonley noted the emergence of “Ethno-burbs” and ethnic precincts with more marked differences. Auckland now evidently has 40% overseas born, while 56% are currently immigrants. With most groups having declining numbers of children the main increases are currently among Maori and Pacific Island children.
Some church challenges which might affect many Parishes will include the question of how to improve communication with immigrant groups. More emphasis on helping provide hospitality and assistance to various ethnic groups with advertising in appropriate languages and the sponsoring of more by way of English as a Second Language courses may be worth considering. International evenings, cooking demonstrations and the encouragement of ethnic foods as part of regular church social events would help foreign newcomers. Another consideration is how we support the catering for the different interests of such groups.
In Auckland we already note the problems facing traditional sports in that rugby, rugby league and cricket all report declining numbers. On the other hand, golf, basketball, soccer, table tennis and badminton all report a resurgence. Perhaps there is some indication here for how the church might better cater for current youth interests.
The other significant change is of course is that in many areas there is an aging population. Simple changes like improvements to audio systems, better winter heating, the provision of more by way of ramps and hand rails are worth reviewing. However perhaps more important is how those who are unable to attend church through declining mobility or worries with health issues will continue to experience support from the Parish. Do these challenges suggest topics for discussion for the Parish council?