The church has come a long way to become what it is today. According to the Bible, the first church began on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ disciples. Today, Christianity is one of the most practiced religions in the world, with over 2 Billion followers.
For many centuries Christianity has been divided into groups that include Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestantism. Protestantism is the second-largest form of Christianity in the world with many denominations including Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian, Evangelical, etc.
For many centuries, people have followed their denominations religiously, but in recent years, there has been a rapid rise in churches that describe themselves as non-denominational, as more and more people continue to break away from traditions.
What Are Non-Denominational Churches?
To understand what non-denominational churches are, you first need to know the meaning of a denomination. A denomination is a large religious body made up of many local churches that operates under a common name, tradition, and identity. Denominations establish their worldviews that shape their members’ views on social, political, and economic issues.
On the other hand, a non-denominational church is any church that is not part of a specific Protestant denomination. Although non-denominational churches are typically a type of evangelical Protestantism, they are not affiliated with a specific evangelical movement.
Non-denominational churches usually choose to regard the Bible as their authority rather than the customs of a particular church. They do not have a central governing authority (although some churches that call themselves non-denominational kind of do).
Often established by individual pastors or communities, non-denominational churches go by many different names and hold a variety of beliefs. A group of elders usually lead these churches and are responsible for establishing the doctrines, worship, and teachings of the church.
The term non-denominational also means neutrality when people from different beliefs are together for one reason or another. If there are people from many denominations, they call it inter-denominational.
The Growth of the Non-Denominational Churches
The first non-denominational churches appeared in the United States from a scattering of independent churches in the latter half of the 20th century. They experienced remarkable growth around the 21st century, not just in the U.S but in other parts of the world as well.
They can range from well-established, large-scale organizations (called megachurches) to small, family-led, community-based congregations, which you can find on almost every street in the Christian world.
One of the main strengths of non-denominational churches is their ability to adapt to the changing society. These make them attractive to members from mainland churches that no longer agree with some traditions and practices of their denomination but still believe in the Christian faith.
Most converts of non-denominational churches are people that have been raised in mainland churches but find themselves at odds with their long-standing rituals and practices of their churches. In the past, being in a denomination was just as important to people as being a Christian. But recent surveys show that people no-longer consider denominations to be that significant. New believers and long-time Christians are now more concerned about what a church is offering them than in what denomination (if any) they belong.
Some denominational churches have been known to have strong opinions on social matters that favor one political bias. These have led some members to leave for non-denominational churches that elude politics while continuing attention for social welfare.
A lot of non-denominational churches have been able to adapt to the current times to reach people better. For example, they are reaching out to the youths through contemporary music, more casual and unstructured services, use of social media, and programs that help youths’ spiritual growth.
What Do Non-Denominational Churches Believe?
Each non-denominational church sets up its own set of beliefs. These may vary from one church to the other. However, most believe that the Bible should be the authority that dictates their teachings, worship, and all aspects of the church.
Denominational churches have strict directives on leadership structures, membership, and dogmas, which are set up by a central authority. On the other hand, non-denominational churches tend to be a little more open-minded on various religious matters and rulings.
Denominational churches have an established hierarchal structure led by a formal priest. Non-denominational churches, on the other hand, are usually led by members of the congregation (often a group of elders) reflecting a belief that the church should be community-based rather than a hierarchy.
Still, there are a couple of fundamental beliefs shared across all non-denominational churches and the broader Christian community. The foundation of these is the belief of Jesus Christ as the Son and earthly incarnation of God; He was crucified, resurrected, and will come again. Another central belief is that the Bible is the word of God and that it is perfect as it is, without any need for addition or explication.
Non-denominational churches also tend to have a simplified version of some central features of the Christian doctrine such as the priesthood, communion or the Eucharist, and sacraments like marriage, baptism, and funeral, as compared to the doctrines espoused by the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran Church, and the Church of England.
Most non-denominational churches believe that Christians should be united on essential beliefs, but there should be liberty on secondary issues. For example, in regards to the Lord’s Supper, a person who believes in Christ is allowed to take it in most non-denominational churches. However, in denominational churches like Catholic, one has to be a member to share in the Lord’s supper in church.
Why Some Churches Choose To Be Non-Denominational
There are various reasons as to why a church would choose to become non-denominational. The main reason is the freedom to direct the ministry and teachings of an individual church without outside interference.
Another common reason why some churches are not part of a denomination is that they do not want to be tied to the many doctrines and rules found in various denominations that are not essential to Christianity.
Various communities and pastors create non-denominational churches every day that go along with their beliefs, practices, and worship(however unique). Some people also establish non-denominational churches after a dispute over traditional teachings in their former churches.
Non-denominational churches also base their argument on wanting independence from the Bible. The early churches often met in houses and each was seen as self-governing and answerable directly to God Himself.
In the book of Acts, which documents the first missionary journeys, the apostles served as leaders of the first church in Jerusalem (Act 2:42-47). But as the number of believers grew, there was a need for additional leadership (Acts 6:1-7). After Peter and Barnabas established a church, they would leave it under the care of elders (Acts 14:23).
What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Non-Denominational Churches?
There are many advantages and disadvantages to having non-denominational churches. Here are some common ones:
- Since non-denominational churches set their own beliefs and practices, they are easily able to adapt to society. If a particular practice becomes outdated, the church can change accordingly to accommodate their community and congregants.
- Non-denominational churches also have the freedom to worship in different ways. They usually use modern forms of music and are more likely to engage their congregants beyond the physical church on social media and other organized church activities. These make them more attractive to the younger generation.
- Non-denominational churches welcome people from different denominations, people who have never been to church, and people who have been hurt by the church.
- Breaking away from a larger existing organization, non-denominational churches may lack the necessary resources or influence to gain a sustainable or growing fellowship. These can range from finances, leadership, mentorship, and support.
- Non-denominational churches may also suffer from internal conflicts that may confuse the church. These may be misunderstandings about practical matters concerning the operation of the church or more substantial issues of belief, practice, or leadership. If different pastors disagree, the church may be split into fractions since there’s no larger organizational structure to help in settling the dispute.
- Since most of these non-denominational churches lack proper oversight, some tend to deviate from the teachings of the Bible and mislead their members.
It does not matter whether a church is denominational or non-denominational. The main thing that matters is how it adheres to the teachings of God. No church is perfect. They are all made of people who are capable of error. Even the disciples, with all the Gifts from the Holy Spirit, made mistakes. In Galatians 2:11, Paul records, “But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him in public, because he was in the wrong.” Peter had given in to pressure and separated himself from Gentile believers.
If you are looking for a place to worship, you need to be prayerful and thoughtful throughout the process. You also need to be proactive like the people of Berea who studied the Scriptures to check if what Paul taught them was the truth (Acts 17:11).