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What are the most common denominations of Christianity?

denominations of Christianity audio

First, we should clarify that this article does not address the branches of Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant). Rather, this article focuses on the denominations within the Protestant tradition. In our view, the three branches of Christianity have enough rudimental differences to warrant their identification as something other than simply “denominations.”

The other branches of Christianity also have sub-categories. Within the Catholic branch are different rites (Latin Rite, Byzantine Rite, etc.). Within the Orthodox branch are various communions (the Greek Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Church, etc.). But, properly speaking, denominations are groups united by similar doctrine and practice within Protestantism. Those denominations are often further divided into synods, sects, movements, or fellowships.

Some claim that there are over 30,000 denominations within Christianity. That might be true if every non-denominational church is counted individually. Also, many groups we might think of as “denominations” are actually fellowships or associations and not denominations per se. In general, a church belonging to a convention, conference, or association has less external oversight than a church in a denomination.

In considering the Protestant groups, we can broadly categorize them in a couple different ways:

Worship Style and Theological Groupings

Charismatic — 584 million. Charismatic churches can be evangelical, fundamental, or liberal. They are characterized by an emphasis of experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit, often manifested by the use of tongues and belief in faith healing.

Evangelical — 285 million. At its root, evangelical just means “having an emphasis on sharing the gospel.” The term usually refers to theologically conservative churches that affirm biblical inspiration and salvation as a personal faith experience. Evangelicals can be found in about any denomination.

Mainline Protestant — 220–305 million. Mainline churches are generally more formal and more theologically liberal than evangelicals. The mainline denominations include Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, American Baptist, and United Church of Christ.

Fundamental — unknown. In its most basic form, a fundamentalist church holds to the “fundamentals” of the faith. Such churches believe in biblical inerrancy and reject theological liberalism and cultural modernism. There is overlap, as some mainline and evangelical churches can also be classified as fundamentalist.

Liberal — unknown. Liberal Christianity teaches a way of interpreting the Bible that is less literal. The emphasis is on the social gospel, and Jesus’ miracles and other supernatural events are de-emphasized or allegorized. Liberal theology is more common among the mainline denominations.

General Categories

Baptist — 300–400 million. Baptists can be evangelical, fundamental, or liberal. The name Baptist comes from the belief that only believers should be baptized—not infants. There are over 218 Baptist conventions, associations, and unions.

Pentecostal — 280 million. Pentecostalism began in the early 1900s and emphasizes the experience of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals are known for their belief that the signs gifts seen in the book of Acts have continued to this day, as well as their enthusiastic worship. Pentecostalism is comprised of over 700 denominations.

Anglican — 90 million. The Anglican Church started pulling away from Roman Catholicism as early as the days of St. Patrick in 432, but it became fully autonomous during the reign of King Henry VIII when the Catholic Church refused to let the king divorce Catherine of Aragon. There are various Anglican communions around the world. The Episcopal Church is the main American branch of Anglicanism.

Non-denominational Evangelical — 80 million. While many non-denominational churches are truly independent, there are a few that were planted from a single church and still maintain some affiliation. Examples are Calvary Chapel and Vineyard churches.

Lutheran — 77 million. The Lutheran Church is organized in autonomous regional or national churches, such as the Church of Norway or the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. There are about 150 such bodies around the world. Lutherans generally follow the teaching of Reformer Martin Luther.

African Protestant — 60 million. African-initiated churches were started by local pastors and not missionaries from European denominations. Some sects developed because of cultural differences between native Africans and European missionaries, and some have theological differences and heresies that reflect this.

Presbyterian — 40–50 million. Although Presbyterianism started in Great Britain and has a long history in the United States, it is far more popular in Africa, where it was introduced in 1898.

Methodist — 40 million. Methodism is an offshoot of the Church of England, an Anglican church. Methodists are primarily Arminian and emphasize good works. Their reliance on liturgy varies among the different congregations.

Continental Reformed — 20–30 million. Less known in the US, the Continental Reformed churches are Calvinistic churches with roots in the European continent, as opposed to Presbyterian and Congregational churches, which began in Great Britain.

Congregational — 5 million. Congregational churches are governed by the congregation, as opposed to the polity of a Presbyterian church, which is governed by a group of elders; or an Episcopal church, which is governed by an episcopate or a single person. There are three main groups within Congregationalism, but none claim more than 2 million members.

Protestant Denominations

Assemblies of God (Pentecostal) — 69 million. As a fellowship, the Assemblies of God (AoG) is comprised of over 140 autonomous groupings. To make things more interesting, there are at least three other fellowships that include “Assemblies of God” in their name.

Church of England (Anglican) — 26 million (1.9 million active members). The church sees itself as a hybrid of Catholicism and the Reformed tradition. It is the primary state church in Great Britain; the American branch is the Episcopal Church.

Calvary Chapel (non-denominational) — 25 million (an estimate, as Calvary Chapel churches do not have formal membership). There are about 1,800 independent churches associated with the movement. Their humble beginnings in Southern California took off when, in 1965, Chuck Smith broke away from the Foursquare Church and ministered to hippies and surfers.

Evangelical Church in Germany (interdenominational) — 24.5 million. The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) is a federation encompassing nearly all the other Protestant denominations in Germany, including Lutheran, Calvinist, and United. Churches are restricted to regions in Germany that reflect borders from 1848. These churches do not infringe on each other’s territories, so if a Lutheran parishioner moved from one region to another, he would go to the church in that region, even if it is Calvinist or United. In addition, any pastor is welcome to preach at any other church within the federation.

Church of Nigeria (Anglican) — 18 million. Anglicanism was brought to Nigeria in 1842 and 22 years later saw its first local bishop. It broke from the Church of England in 1919. They oppose the ordination of homosexuals and stand in communion with other Anglican and Episcopal churches that do the same.

Apostolic Church (Pentecostal) — 15 million. The Apostolic Church began in Wales. They emphasize missions and the teachings of the New Testament apostles. The largest national church is in Nigeria and has 4.5 million members. They believe in the continuation of the offices of apostle and prophet.

Southern Baptist Convention (Baptist) — 14 million. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest Baptist body in the world and the second largest church body in the US after the Roman Catholic Church. Southern Baptists are evangelical and generally conservative in their theology.

United Methodist Church (mainline) — 12 million, although membership may be lower today, given the recent split in the denomination. Formed by the partnership of the Methodist Church (USA) and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, the UMC is Wesleyan/Arminian in theology. It is the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the US. Worship style is a mix of liturgical and evangelical.

International Circle of Faith Apostolic Churches (Pentecostal) — 11 million. International Circle of Faith Apostolic Churches (ICOF) emphasize repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, receiving the Holy Spirit, and racial equality.

Fang Cheng Fellowship (Pentecostal) — 10 million. Fang Cheng is one of the largest house church networks in the world. In the early 2000s, they experienced persecution by the Chinese government; in 2000, 130 members were arrested, and one leader was imprisoned from 2004 to 2011.

Eternal Sacred Order of Cherubim and Seraphim (African Protestant) — 10 million. Like many African-originating denominations, this one started out of a desire for signs and wonders. Where the European missionaries saw voodoo, the Africans saw Bible-based sign gifts—particularly healing. Ambiguity abounds as they claim to fight witchcraft and demon possession but prophesy and perform strange miracles.

China Gospel Fellowship (Pentecostal) — 5 million. Also known as the Tanghe Fellowship, the China Gospel Fellowship is a house church network and the second largest Protestant denomination in China. Devoted to reaching minority groups, they are targeted by the government and suffer persecution from other religious groups as well.

Zion Christian Church (African Protestant) — 2–6 million. The Zion Christian Church (ZCC) is the largest church in Southern Africa that originated in Africa and not Europe. Engenas Lekganyane, the founder, had a background in Anglicanism, Apostolicism, and Catholicism. In 1948, Lekganyane’s son moved the church’s emphasis away from signs and toward more Bible teaching. Their practices still include prophecy and healing, and they believe that their church’s leader is their mediator to God.

The size of a denomination does not necessarily reflect how biblical its teachings are. There are many good denominations, and each one has good and bad churches in its ranks. It’s best to study an individual church’s statement of faith, meet with the pastor, and ask about its practices rather than exercising blind loyalty to a particular denomination.

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This page last updated: March 8, 2024