Journalist and documentary filmmaker David Farrier has published an exposé of Arise Church. The piece alleges exploitation of their interns and attendees, including an account from an Otago Uni student who attended their Dunedin branch.
Arise Church is one of the largest churches in Aotearoa, if not the largest. It’s also a bit different to most churches. For one, it has 14 campuses around the country, boasting an estimated 10,000 followers. These all effectively act as one church, with attendees at all these campuses watching live-streamed sermons from their leader, Pastor John Cameron, every Sunday. Also, unlike a lot of other churches, Arise has a notably young following, with a high proportion of university students. In Dunedin, they have an Otago Uni “Students of ARISE Church” club.
One Otago student, who began attending as a first-year in 2017, shared their experience with Farrier. “In the front row there is a stage manager, although I’m sure they call it something more spiritual. They have on a whole headset — like, over-ear headphones and a mic. In the Dunedin church, it was a woman in her late twenties. In that front row there was also an iPad that had a set of timers on it. It only faced the stage, and was there so that every single element ran for only a specific amount of time. [...] They would then beam in John Cameron from the Kapiti campus. This kind of bugged me from the beginning, because they had campus pastors in Dunedin, but they seldom actually delivered messages. I just found it odd to go to a church full of people to watch a video from Arise headquarters.”
The student stated that followers were encouraged to give tithes (10% of their income) however they could, despite the fact that they were mostly, well, broke students. Churchgoers were also strongly encouraged to attend Arise’s conferences, in some cases “being told to use their course related costs to pay for conference tickets”. This messaging comes from a registered charity that, by the way, raked in a cool $12,969,889 last year.
According to the student: “They have a women’s conference, and then just a normal conference. They are both super-expensive, and if you want to be anything more than someone who turns up for church, you are constantly told you should go. They spend all year running promo videos of previous conferences and having ‘early bird’ specials. They show you clips of crying people and a few famous Christians, alongside the free gifts and the selling of the experience itself. They even have merch now. It’s bordering on ridiculous.”
Farrier also reported on Arise’s internship program, which followers actually need to pay to join. Under their program, interns would reportedly work “four days in the office, plus evening events most nights, work a huge day on Sunday, and then work somewhere for actual money on your ‘days off’.” If this schedule was not enough, Arise interns were also allegedly used by staff as babysitters, drivers, and cleaners.
Former Arise members also raised concerns to Farrier that Arise pushes a strong political agenda. One said that “We were told from the stage pre-election to vote National because that was a ‘good Christian vote’. A lot of people in the congregation would vote for whoever they were told to vote for, without doing their own research. I remember also being told from stage to oppose the Marriage Equality Bill, and feeling like if I didn’t, then I was doing something wrong.”
Critic Te Arohi reported last year on Arise Church’s political activities, when they sent a mass email telling their members to oppose the Conversion Practices Prohibition Bill (which outlawed conversion therapy). Arise claimed at the time that the bill would limit freedom of religion. The Campus Chaplains, however, notably disagreed with that view. Reverend Dr. Jordan Redding told Critic Te Arohi then that “it is well-established that attempting to change or suppress one's sexuality or gender is not only ineffectual but also (and more pertinently) harmful. We are firmly against any such practices.”
He also told us that “the new legislation protects the right of religious groups to express their beliefs. On campus, there are many different religious (and non-religious) groups, who hold a wide range of views when it comes to sexuality and gender. The Campus Chaplains recognise this diversity and the importance of protecting religious freedoms. However, we stress that freedom of expression must never cross over into coercive practices that cause harm.”
Critic Te Arohi reached out to Arise Church for comment. As of print time, we did not receive a response.