Against the Odds: Murray Roberston and Spreydon Baptist Church. Auckland: Archer Press, 2016.

against-the-oddsIn 1968 Murray Robertson was called as a young minister to a small elderly church in Christchurch, and what followed over the next 40 years was both unexpected and remarkable. During this period Spreydon Baptist grew to be one of the largest churches in the country. More than 70 people were sent out on overseas mission, a significant number of others became ministers of churches elsewhere in New Zealand, and others in the church developed a wide range of effective ministries. Robertson himself became an influential leader in the wider church in New Zealand. In its local community Spreydon developed a large number of community ministries with such influence that the mayor of Christchurch visited to thank the church for its contribution to the life of the city. This book not only tells the story but also provides insights and learning from which anyone interested in the future of Christianity and the church might benefit.

Review by Laurie Guy

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The Church in Post-Sixties New Zealand: decline, growth and change. Auckland: Archer Press, 2013.

Front Cover photo

It is widely accepted that over the past 50 years the church in New Zealand has been experiencing steady and persistent decline. Some have foreseen its virtual demise while most see its influence in society becoming almost insignificant. This book examines how true this narrative is among Protestant churches in New Zealand, and by placing it in the context of other similar western societies, seeks to come to some understanding of the factors which might explain this andwhat the implications for the future of churches and Christianity might be. It also examines churches which have countered this trend by showing vitality and growth over this period to see what might be learned from them for a more vitalChristian presence in the future. Part of the story is told by focussing on the particular stories of four different kinds of churches in Christchurch.


Kevin Ward’s impeccably researched study of church growth and decline in New Zealand since the 1960s, with four fascinating case studies of Christchurch congregations, makes a major contribution to a field currently booming in international scholarship. This engagingly written gem of a book should be required reading for all New Zealand pastors, church leaders, sociologists, historians, theologians, scholars of religion and anybody else who cares about the past, present and future of Christianity in New Zealand and beyond.

John Stenhouse, Associate Professor, Department of History and Art History, University of Otago

Back in the 1960’s when our society began to undergo profound changes, opinion shapers in most Protestant Churches seemed to make two decisions. One was to keep the style of doing church pretty much the way it had always been, and the other was to decide that the time for a radical reinterpretation of traditional Biblical theology had come. The results five decades on can be seen to have been little short of catastrophic, as once strong churches now consist of small declining gatherings of the elderly. There have been exceptions to this pattern, and in this book Kevin Ward writes about his case studies of four Christchurch churches that had various approaches to style and theology over these years and draws significant conclusions from the outcomes he found. I hope this book will receive a thoughtful read from today’s opinion shapers so that the mistakes of past decades can be avoided, and fresh hopes be rekindled for the future.

Murray Robertson, Senior Pastor Spreydon Baptist Church 1968-2009.

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Losing Our Religion: changing patterns of believing and belonging in Secular Western Societies. Wipf&Stock: Eugene, Oregon, 2013.

Front cover

“Church-going in most Western societies has declined significantly in the wake of the social and cultural changes that began in the 1960s. Does this mean that people in these societies are losing any religious dimension in their lives, or is it being expressed in other forms and places? This study begins by looking at comparative data on how church-going patterns have changed in five countries—Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—examining reasons for the decline, how churches have responded to these changes, and why some churches have shown greater resilience. It then explores some of the particular challenges these changes pose for the future of churches in these societies and some of the responses that have been made, drawing on both sociological and theological insights. The conclusion is that, despite the loss of belonging, believing persists and religion continues to play a significant role in these societies, mediated in a variety of diffuse cultural forms. Cases illustrating these changes are largely drawn from New Zealand, which as the country most recently settled by Europeans has always been “secular” and thus provides helpful insights.”


“The church is frequently swept along by the strong currents of contemporary cultures. So more than every we need scholars and church leaders who won’t merely ride the waves, but will rather be deeper readers of the tides. Kevin Ward is one of those all-too-rare readers of the currents that shape Christianity today. The very contours of believing and belonging, and his astute work, will repay careful reading and stimulate reflection, leading to deeper discipleship.”

Martyn Percy, Principal, Ripon College, Oxford.

“This is a compelling read, engaginly written, with brief and crisp chapters exploring many aspects. This book is not slow to advance its thesis, that religion remains strong, despite the waning of religious institutions. It is replete with lively argument, skillful use of statistics, and theory explored with a light touch. I am delighted to recommend it.”

Peter Lineham, Professor of History, Massey University, New Zealand.

“In Losing Our Religion, Kevin Ward has raised critical questions for institutional Christianity in the West. This book goes far most popular attempts to tweak the practices of the institutional church with the hope of stemming the tide of decline. It asks the church to situate itself honestly within the context of of the postmodern worldview, and to respond by thinking outside the box about what it means to be the church.”

Lydia Johnson, Author of Drinking from the Same Well.


John Roxborogh at book launch

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 Book Chapters

“Christianity and Churches in New Zealand since 1960: Sociological Perspectives”, Sacred Histories in Secular New Zealand, Geoffrey Troughton & Stuart Lange (eds.) Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2016, pp. 171-186.

“Migration, Cultural Diversity and Unity in Christ”, Studies and Conversations on Asian Mission Theology, Yong Dong Kim (ed.) Seoul: Centre for World Mission, PUTS, 2015,  pp. 292-334.

“Is New Zealand’s Future Churchless?” in Our Story: Aotearoa New Zealand, S. Sinclair ed. Christchurch: NZCMS, 2014 .

Understanding Multiculturalism and the Church in New Zealand, with Jose Reader, Wellington: PCANZ, 2014

“Does a Rose by any other name still smell the same?” Gospel Truth & Interpretation: Evangelical Identity in Aotearoa New Zealand, T. Meadowcroft & M. Habets, eds. Auckland: Archer Press, 2013, pp. 153-168.

“Will We Find Church in Future New Zealand”, Christianity in the Post Secular West, J, Stenhouse & B. Knowles (eds.) Hindmarsh, ATF Press, 2007, pp. 209-238.

“No Longer Believing or Believing Without Belonging”, The Future of Christianity: Historical, Sociological, Political and Theological Perspectives from New Zealand. J. Stenhouse, B. Knowles (eds), AdelaideATF Press, 2004, pp. 60-72.

Journal Articles

“Religion in New Zealand since the 1960s: some sociological perspectives” New Zealand Sociology 31 (3), The 2nd special issue on history of NZ Sociology, 2016, pp. 186-206

“Migration, Cultural Diversity and Unity in Christ: Mission and Church in Aotearoa New Zealand,” Asia-Pacific Journal of Theological Studies, Vol 3, 2015, pp. 63-96.

“It might be emerging but is it church?”  Stimulus, Vol 17, No 4, Nov 2009, pp. 2-13.

“A rose by any other name?” Stimulus, Vol 17, No 3, Aug 2009, pp. 18-22.

“Toward 2015: The Future of Mainline Protestantism in New Zealand.” Journal of Beliefs and Values  Vol 27, No. 1, April 2006, pp. 13-23.

“Is New Zealand’s Future Churchless?”, Stimulus, Vol 12, No 2, May 2004, pp. 2-12.

“Social change and church involvement as seen through the lens of sport”, South Pacific Journal of  Mission Studies, No. 28, July 2003, pp. 25-29.

“Christendom, Clericalism, Church and Context.” Stimulus, Vol 10, No 1, Feb 2002, pp. 51-60.

“Religion in a Postaquarian Age.” Stimulus, Vol.9, No. 1, Feb 2001, pp. 12-21.

“ANZAC Day: What’s going on?” Anglican Taonga, NO. 19, Spring 2005, pp. 10-13.

“Churches which are Growing.” Reality, June/July 20001, pp. 8-14.

“Spiritual Survival in Ministry.” Reality, Feb/Mar 1996 pp. 7-12, and Apr/May 1996 pp. 17-19.

“Against the Tide: Spreydon Baptist Church 1960 to 2000.” Baptist Research, Vol. 9, Oct. 2004, pp. 72-116.

“Rethinking church for New Zealand”, Ministry Today, Issue 27, Feb. 2003, pp. 13-20.

Worlds in conflict? Rugby and Church?” Reality #45, June/July 2002, pp. 26-30.

“Believing without Belonging.” Reality, Feb/Mar 2001, pp. 19-24. Also published in Ministry Today, Issue 26, Oct. 2002, pp. 11-18.

“Coming Apart at the Seams.” Reality, Dec/Jan 2000/01, pp. 29-32.

“Seeker Services and Cell Churches in a New Zealand Context”. Reality, Oct/Nov 1995 pp. 22-25.

“Rock Music, Youth Culture and the Church”. Reality, June/July 1995 pp. 34-37.

  1. June 25, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    The Church in Post-Sixties New Zealand: decline, growth and change. Auckland:

    hello – we are a library supplier
    Can we get copies of this book from you – possibly wholesale?
    Kind regards

    Mary Hooker

  2. Jim Brandis
    March 27, 2015 at 10:17 am

    Dr. Ward,

    I have read and am rereading your book, Losing our Religion and I really like what you’ve done. Your research is impressive in seeing the big picture. I have one question. To what would you attribute the movement of individuals from mainline churches to more conservative churches, and becoming more conservative theologically?

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