Your spiritual beliefs, as well as how you choose to celebrate your faith, are very personal decisions. Although many of us are raised with certain beliefs or belief systems, when we reach adulthood, most of us go through a time of personal evaluation where we decide for ourselves what we believe. This is an important part of spiritual growth. Although there are many different religions or systems of spiritual belief, about 75% of Americans claim to be Christians. As of late, large numbers of those Christians are leaving traditionally established denominations for churches that classify themselves as non denominational.

WHAT MAKES A CHURCH NON DENOMINATIONAL?

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In order to understand what makes a church non denominational, we must first look at what a denomination is.

WHAT IS A DENOMINATION?

A denomination is defined as “a distinct religious body within Christianity, identified by traits such as a name, organization, leadership, and doctrine.” In plain terms, it’s a subset of Christianity. According to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are about 43,000 denominations of Christianity in the world. This data is of the year 2012. They estimate that a new denomination is formed roughly every 10.5 hours.

Denominations of Christianity have formed since the birth of Christianity around 35 AD. They are the result of disagreements between members of the faith. Since the beginnings of Christianity, members of the faith have disagreed over doctrine. These disagreements sometimes resulted in a division of the church.

Those who disagreed strongly enough would separate themselves and form a new body of believers with the same fundamental Christian beliefs, but with some differences in doctrine. For example, all Christians believe in the divinity of Christ, but denominations differ in their beliefs about how his death and resurrection should be celebrated.

The most popular denominations of Christianity in the US by size are:

  • Catholic
  • Baptist
  • Methodist/Wesleyan
  • Lutheran
  • Presbyterian
  • Pentecostal
  • Episcopalian
  • Mormon
  • Church of Christ
  • United Church of Christ
  • Jehovah’s Witness
  • Assemblies of God
  • Evangelical
  • Church of God
  • Seventh Day Adventist
  • Orthodox
  • Holiness
  • Church of the Nazarene
  • Disciples of Christ
  • Church of the Brethren
  • Mennonite
  • Dutch Reformed
  • Apostolic
  • Quaker
  • Christian Science
  • Full Gospel
  • Christian Reform
  • Independent Christian Church
  • Foursquare Gospel

WHAT IS A NON DENOMINATIONAL CHURCH?

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Non Denominational churches are congregations that don’t associate themselves with any official denomination within the Christian church. They usually stay away from strict doctrinal requirements and customs practiced by denominations. These churches are formed in the same way as the official denominations.

Generally, someone walks away from a denominationally affiliated church because of disagreements about doctrine. Instead of forming a new, official denomination, they choose not to affiliate in that way. These churches usually share common beliefs with the Christian church, but stay away from strict practices of ritual or custom.

Examples

Some examples of non denominational churches include the following:

  • Church of Christ
  • Independent Christian Churches
  • Vineyard Church
  • Association for a More Just Society
  • Hope Haven
  • Audio Scripture Ministries

Non denominational churches tend to focus on keeping the Bible as the center of their belief system. They believe in using the Bible as their authority rather than a central authority figure or a set of creeds. This is based on the idea that, in the formation of the early Christian church, the Apostles didn’t establish any central leadership.

Churches had local elders, but that was the extent of leadership. Non denominational churches believe that church was meant to be cooperative, working together under local leaders and taking direction straight from the teachings of Jesus. This is the basis for their departure from highly ritual or hierarchical denominations.

WHY PEOPLE PREFER NON DENOMINATIONAL CHURCHES

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Although non denominational churches as such are fairly new in terms of the history of Christianity, they are growing quickly. As of 2015, there were about 12 million people who affiliate with non denominational churches. In turn, there are about 35,000 non denominational churches in the US. They are now the second-largest Protestant group, with only the Southern Baptist Convention having more members. Let’s look at why this is.

Negative Associations

When asked why they left a standard denomination, a lot of people expressed that the established denominations have a negative reputation. They used the words “negative brand” as a descriptor. This may be because of certain denominations' desire to hold on to antiquated beliefs or practices. People also feel denominations are associated by focusing on everything they are “against” rather than anything positive.

Politics

Unfortunately, denominations are often associated with fighting, politics, and bureaucracy rather than doing any good. In a religion that’s supposed to be about loving your neighbor and feeding the hungry, people are tired of fighting about what kind of Bibles should be used or whether chairs can replace pews. People want to get rid of all the red tape in religion.

disagreements about beliefs

A significant number of people walk away from a denomination because they don’t agree with the belief system. This usually happens when the church decides to revisit their stance on a given issue. When a denomination is very divided about how to handle an issue, the final decision will usually result in a portion of the congregants leaving to worship elsewhere. Many choose a non denominational church to avoid such arguments in the future.

lack of institutional loyalty

In our current culture, people feel less and less need to pledge their loyalty to specific institutions. It has become much more acceptable to change one’s beliefs over time, so people don’t feel the need to commit to a denomination for life. In the past, when people tended to stick with the religion of their parents and social divisions were much stronger, denominations mattered. Now, people feel less inclined to be labeled.

finances

After repeated scandals involving the misuse of money in large, denominational churches, people are tired of the dishonesty. More and more, they feel that denominations are not well-organized and aren’t good stewards of their funds. They are seeking places with more transparency and less legalism.

pros and cons of non-denominational churches

There is both good and bad about denominations in churches. Seeking out a non denominational church is often the answer to getting away from the negatives of a denomination. However, non denominational churches have their issues as well. Let's look at the pros and cons of these kinds of congregations.

PROS

  • Independent congregation
  • Customize beliefs as they see fit
  • No need to ask for approval
  • Tend to be more modern
  • More adaptable to the world
  • Accepting of all types of people

CONS

  • Fewer resources available
  • Harder to sustain growth
  • Harder to seek new members
  • Confusion and misunderstandings happen often
  • Arguments over theology are frequent
  • Some ignore basic theology
  • No higher authority to mediate disputes

NON DENOMINATIONAL BELIEFS AND PRACTICES

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Since non denominational churches don’t subscribe to a specific set of beliefs or practices, they vary from congregation to congregation. The main theme that runs through these churches is that they are self-governing and answer only to God. They use the Bible to answer their theological questions and generally allow for more disagreement among members about lesser theological questions.

They also tend to stay away from ritualistic services and allow for more freedom of worship. They have a loose and open leadership structure and do not believe in answering to an authority higher than the local congregation.

Non denominational churches generally derive their belief system from the books of Acts and the early church. These early congregations were self-sustaining. They didn’t have a central body of leadership and there wasn’t any biblical basis for one. They would occasionally commune with one another, but they didn’t have authority over each other. Most congregants believe this is the way the church was intended to be.

Because they believe all authority about how to run a church resides within the local church, non denominational churches vary greatly in how they run and worship. Some have a more rigid group of elders taking care of finances and pastoral leadership. Others have a more loose structure with the church body participating in all decisions.

Some even rotate the position of the pastor. There are those with very conservative worship, using a choir and organ, while others use a praise band. The flow of the service can vary greatly as there are no required rituals. Some congregations conduct their services “as the spirit leads,” with no structure.

CONCLUSION

The shift from denominational to non denominational doesn’t show any sign of slowing in the near future. In the US, we’ve seen a cultural shift in religion from very rigid, lifelong commitments to one church of one denomination, to children breaking away from their parents' beliefs and finding their own faith. This paradigm shift has been caused by changes in the way we live in the 21st century.

Generation X and beyond tend not to stay at one job and live in one place until retirement. They are willing to start over and try new things. Because of this, they have created a trend toward congregations with local leadership and less rigid belief systems. Scandals and antiquated beliefs have also caused distrust and waning loyalty toward established denominations. All of these things have led to a trend towards non denominational rather than denominational congregations.