In 1950, the Evangelical Free Church of America (Swedish) and the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Free Church Association combined to form the Evangelical Free Church of America. Churches often shorten their affiliation to “EvFree” or “E-Free.”
The “evangelical” of Evangelical Free reflects the assertions that the scriptures are the inerrant word of God, people are born into a sinful condition, and salvation comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as a commitment to spreading these beliefs. They also believe in the glorious return of Christ, the bodily resurrection of the dead, and the celebration of water baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The “free” means that EFCA churches are congregational in governance. Each church is governed and financially supported by its own members. This is as opposed to being ruled by a presbyter, or board of elders, or an episcopate, which is a central leader over several churches. Although EFCA churches typically have a senior pastor and a board of elders, the pastors and elders receive their authority by the vote of the congregation.
Local churches may be involved in regional ministries with churches of other denominations. The EFCA also supports the reconciliation program Samaritan Way, and the national and international missions programs ReachNational and ReachGlobal. Chuck Swindoll was ordained as an Evangelical Free pastor, and his ministry Insight for Living began as a radio broadcast of his messages at the First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, California.
The EFCA only ordains men to be pastors. Baptism is generally not required for communion or membership into the church. Although the EFCA supports many ministries, they do not emphasize secular political involvement. Personal responsibility and holiness are stressed over adherence to strict behavioral guidelines. The church is inclusive; that is, salvation is through faith in Christ alone, and church membership is not dependent on acceptance of minor issues. The association takes no stance on Calvinism vs. Arminianism, worship style, or spiritual gifts. Music styles vary from full choir and orchestra to guitar-based worship teams. Preaching varies from verse-by-verse exegesis to topical messages with illustrations—sometimes in the same church.
In the face of downward trends in church attendance, the EFCA has held its own. The number of congregations has nearly doubled in the last thirty years (to 1,480), and attendance has more than tripled (to 350,000). In the last decade, both congregation numbers and members have seen modest increases. The headquarters of the EFCA is in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The association is divided into eighteen districts. Although most E-Free churches are concentrated in the Midwest, California has the greatest number.