Perceptions of church

12 December, 2013 — 10 Comments

How some New Zealanders view the church

In this post I list the nine perceptions of the church discovered in my recent doctoral research titled The disconnected church. This involved qualitative research where I talked to some people who were not what I call Christianised. This means they had never had any intentional engagement with the church throughout their life. The people I talked to also defined themselves as “spiritual”.


In previous posts I’ve attempted to get you thinking about how people outside the church see or perceive the church. In this post I start talking about what I actually found out.

The USA context

Similar research in the USA context was done by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons through the Barna group, published in the 2007 book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters.  Dan Kimball, through his pastoral experience with young people also wrote on this topic in his 2007 They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations (these are both still good reading).

Some things that make my research different is firstly the context: New Zealand is considered one of the most secularised countries in the world, so in some ways New Zealand trends are ahead of other western countries.

Secondly, in my research, the way I got church leaders to engage with these 9 perceptions was new to this kind of process, and I’ll write about that in another post.

In this post I just want to list the 9 perceptions of how the people I interviewed perceive the church. There is a lot to talk about with each of these perceptions, including some fascinating supporting stories. I will write more about these in the future too.

The 9 Perceptions:

Perception 1:  The church is not a spiritual place.

Perception 2:  The church is stuck in the past, in a time where it had power and abused it’s control.

Perception 3: The church and Christians lack integrity.

Perception 4:  Free, independent thinkers don’t need the church.

Perception 5:  Church is oppressive.

Perception 6:  Christianity is not seen as relevant or necessary.

Perception 7a:  Most Christians are nutters.
Perception 7b:  Some Christians do amazing good.

Perception 8:  The church is after your money.

Perception 9:  The church? Who cares?

What’s your reaction?

I’m keen to hear your reaction to these perceptions – either as a New Zealander or from somewhere else. If you’ve read the Kinnaman & Lyons or Kimball material, you probably won’t be surprised. If you’re someone who thinks a lot about church and society engagement, this list probably won’t be a surprise either.

But if you are surprised by anything on the list, or have a thought to share about it, please leave a comment below.

What do you think?


Image “Elizabeth & Edmund” collage using money and a magazine by Mike Crudge.

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  • not a wild hera

    Woah. It’s stark, isn’t it. So much to think about here. Thanks, Mike – and great collage too!

  • Mike, are the perceptions listed in order of strength? Any order?

    • Hi Mark
      The perceptions come from 5 dominant themes that emerged from my interview data. The order listed here does not have significance. Significance lies in the fact that all people interviewed responded with such perceptions. Similarly with any sense of strength.

  • DrDon

    Mike – considering you posted this thread some weeks ago and there has been very little activity, could it be because people are too busy over the holiday period to post – OR could it be that Christians are so unused to questioning and evaluating what they believe that they don’t know what to say. Given that you present these perceptions as the result of a research study, we must accept that these perceptions are, to at least some degree, the truth. We cannot put our heads in the sand and hope that they will go away. The question then becomes – ‘What will make Christians sit up, listen, reflect, study the Bible, and do something about the problem.

    • To answer your question is perhaps my life’s work!… :)

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  • Gillian

    Hi Mike! Hey belated congrats on a fascinating thesis!! I used some of these ideas in a wee talk I gave this weekend at an Anglican gathering – thanks for the info and resources (eg. that graph on church attendance cf. Christian affiliation).

    • Hi Gillian and thanks. Long time no see! I’m glad my stuff is being useful. I hope you directed your Anglican gathering to my blog? :)