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    Christian Denominations

    Click here for the article, Confused by the Confusion?

    There are nearly 34,000 (probably more) different Christian and Messianic DENOMINATIONS and CHURCHES in the world today. These may be broken down into six different main blocks:

    Antinomian Group of Denominations Number of Denominations in Group
    1. Independents 22,000
    2. Protestants 9,000
    3. 'Marginals' 1,600
    4. Orthodox 781
    5. Roman Catholics 242
    6. Anglicans 168
    Total 33,791
    Source: World Christian Encyclopedia, Vol.1, pp.16-18 (volume 1) (2001, 2nd edition).

    If you combine the 'Independents' (which are mostly 'Protestant') with the 'Protestants' and 'Anglicans', then 94% of all the 33,791 (that's 31,000+ denominations) are Protestant. What do we mean by these groups of categories? These may be broken down into various large sub-groups as follows which for convenience may be placed into blocks:


    The Independents (about 22,000 denominations)

    Block 1

    • African Independent Apostolic
    • Black American Apostolic
    • Filipino Apostolic
    • Indian Apostolic
    • another 8 groups have "Apostolic"
    • African Independent Charismatic
    • Black American Charismatic
    • Chinese Charismatic
    • another 14 groups have "Charismatic" or "Neocharismatic"
    • African Independent Full Gospel
    • Black American Full Gospel
    • Chinese Full Gospel
    • another 10 groups have "Full Gospel"
    • three have something-"grassroots"
    • another 20 groups have "house-church network" or "cell-based network"
    • five have "Messianic"-something
    • another 14 are something-"neocharismatic"
    • another 12 are something-"Oneness pentecostal"
    • another 18 are something-"pentecostal"
    • another 12 are something-"radio/TV believers [or "network"]" (i.e. the "pastor" for these independent Christians is some personality on radio or TV)
    • final 2 on page 17 are something-"Spiritual"
    • then we have a couple deliverence/pentecostal groups
    • Word of Faith / Prosperity groups
    • a couple of "mixed traditions"
    • some "Zionist" groups
    • Independent Anglicans or Anglo-Catholic groups in both Catholic and Protestant directions
    • Independent Adventists
    • apocalyptic or eschatological ("end times") groups
    • Independent Baptists
    • British-Israelites
    • Hidden Buddhist believers in Christ
    • some Independent Orthodox groups
    • independent Christian Brethren (Plymouth Brethren)
    • schismatic Conservative Catholics
    • Independent Congregational, Congregationalists
    • Independent Disciple, Restorationist, Christian
    • Independent Dunkers (Tunker, Dipper)
    • Independent Exclusive Brethren (Closed, Strict)
    • episcopi vagantes ("wandering" bishops-at-large, very small under 100 members)
    • Independent Estonian Orthodox
    • Independent Anglican Evangelical
    • Independent Fundamentalist
    • Gay/Lesbian homosexual tradition (i.e. so-called "gay churches" such as Metropolitan Community Churches)
    • Independent Greek Orthodox
    • Hidden Hindu believers in Christ
    • Holiness or Conservative Methodist (non-Pentecostal)
    • Independent Hungarian Orthodox
    • Independent Jehovah's Witnesses
    • Messianic, Jewish-Christian congregations
    • Independent "Latin-rite" Catholics
    • Independent "Liberal" Catholics (Theosophical, Masonic, Gnostic)
    • another seven Independent Protestant or Orthodox churches
    • Hidden Muslim believers in Christ
    • Independent Assyrian or Nestorian
    • No-Church Movement
    • Non-denominational (no church or anti-church groups)
    • Old Believer, Old Ritualist
    • Old Catholics (i.e. split from Rome after Vatican Council I)
    • Old Calendarist (Authentic Orthodox)
    • various schisms from Orthodoxy, in Protestant directions
    • Orthodox sect/sectarian
    • Independent Friends (Quakers)
    • three indy "Reformed" groups (Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox)
    • more Independent Reformed or Orthodox
    • Independent Spiritualist, spiritists, occultists
    • Traditionalist Anglicans
    • True Orthodox (Conservative Russian Orthodox)
    • Independent Ukrainian Orthodox
    • United church (various united bodies)
    • community church or union congregation
    • ethnic or monoethnic denominations
    • independent evangelicals (dispensationalist)
    • marginal independent Christian (Black / Third-World)
    • isolated radio churches (unorganized)
    • single autonomous congregations

    Good grief! While the World Christian Encyclopedia does refer to "only" 9000 or so denominations as "Protestant" the source also includes 22,000 or so denominations as "Independent" and if you look at the names of these "Independent" groups above, you'll see most of them are clearly Protestant (the "Apostolic", the "Charismatic", the "Full Gospel", the house or home churches, the pentecostals, probably all the TV/radio Christians, and all the independents of other Protestant denominations listed, etc). None of these are Catholic or Orthodox, but there appear to be some renegade Orthodox, Anglicans, and schismatic Catholics among the "Independents." The largest of these Independent Christians are "White-led charismatic" (17,478,000 members [year 1995], in 2856 separate denominations [year 2000]), "African independent pentecostal" (18,943,000 members [year 1995], in 5385 separate denominations [year 2000]), and "African neocharismatic of mixed traditions" (1,500,000 members [year 1995], in 3333 separate denominations [year 2000]). These three are all Protestant (neither Catholic, nor Orthodox) and account for more than half (53%) of the 22,000 "Independent" denominations.

    Another section of these "Independents" with a decent number of denominations include (ordered by smallest to largest denominations, year 2000):

    Block 2

    • 65 Filipino Charismatic
    • 70 Chinese neocharismatic
    • 71 Chinese Charismatic
    • 78 Black American pentecostal
    • 82 Holiness (Conservative Methodist, non-pentecostal)
    • 86 Afro-Caribbean Oneness pentecostal
    • 92 Latin American Charismatic
    • 92 Anglican/Independent Evangelical
    • 92 Independent Methodist
    • 95 Indian pentecostal
    • 96 African Oneness pentecostal
    • 96 marginal independent (Black/Third World)
    • 99 White-led Oneness pentecostal
    • 102 Arab Charismatic
    • 133 Black American Oneness pentecostal
    • 133 Independent Disciple, Restorationist, Christian
    • 136 Independent Reformed, Presbyterian
    • 158 Zionist African Independent
    • 167 Korean pentecostal (mixed traditions)
    • 177 Indonesian pentecostal
    • 208 New/Old Apostolic, Catholic Apostolic (Irvingite, an Anglican / Presbyterian / Adventist sect)
    • 221 Brazilian/Portuguese pentecostal
    • 225 ethnic or monoethnic denomination
    • 226 White-led Full Gospel
    • 236 Nondenominational (no church or anti-church)
    • 271 Independent Baptist
    • 281 Latin American grassroots
    • 281 Filipino neocharismatic
    • 300 Brazilian grassroots
    • 343 Afro-Caribbean pentecostal
    • 439 African Independent Spiritual
    • 475 Indian Charismatic
    • 609 African Independent Charismatic
    • 644 Latin American pentecostal
    • 805 single autonomous congregations
    • 813 White-led pentecostal

    Adding up these Independent denominations we get 8,497 which is another 39% of the total of 22,000 "Independents." All of these are clearly "Protestant" in theology as well -- charismatics, pentecostals, evangelicals, methodists, reformed/presbyterians, full gospel, "nondenominational", baptists, and Oneness pentecostals (note that Barrett includes "mainline" Oneness groups in the Protestant mega-bloc, not in the "Marginal" mega-bloc). So that gives us 92% ( = 53% + 39% ) of these Independent groups accounted for as Protestant. The rest (the remaining 8% of the 22000 denominations) are smaller than the above, and the majority of these are Protestant as well.

    The only other large "Catholic" independent group is 435 "denominations" labeled "Conservative Catholic (schism ex Rome)" or those "radical Traditionalist" Catholics in schism with Rome which I'll admit appears to be a large number (considering there are only 242 total "Roman Catholic denominations" -- see below). However, looking at the total numbers of Roman Catholics in the world (over 1 billion) this dwarfs the relatively small numbers (i.e. 4,518,000 members [year 1995], in 435 "denominations" [year 2000]) in these schismatical groups. And at least Catholics know who is in "schism" whereas a Protestant evangelical, fundamentalist, charismatic or pentecostal (i.e. all the above groups which claim to follow the Bible) can't be in "schism" to the Bible, since the Bible by itself doesn't tell us who is in schism.

    Another way to determine the percentage of Protestants/Anglicans in these Independents is to count and exclude the "Catholic" and "Orthodox" ones -- i.e. groups which appear to have come out of or split off from the Catholic Church or Orthodox Churches, and apparently still claim to be in some sense "Catholic" or "Orthodox" and are non-Protestant / non-Anglican. These are, ordered from largest to smallest denominations, year 2000 numbers:

    • 435 Conservative Catholic (schism ex-Rome), the biggest group of these already mentioned
    • 32 Independent Russian Orthodox, second largest
    • 30 Orthodox sect/sectarian
    • 27 Liberal Catholic (Theosophical, Masonic, Gnostic), questionable what this means, but I'll include them
    • 26 Old Catholic (i.e. split with Rome after Vatican Council I)
    • 25 Old Believer, Old Ritualist (the "Old Believers" are a Russian Orthodox sect)
    • 24 Independent Ukrainian Orthodox
    • 23 Reformed Orthodox (uncanonical)
    • 16 Reformed Catholic (retaining Roman Catholic claims)
    • 8 Old Calendarist (Authentic Orthodox)
    • 6 True Orthodox (conservative Russian Orthodox)
    • 5 Independent Serbian Orthodox
    • 5 Latin-rite Catholic
    • 5 Independent Assyrian or Nestorian
    • 3 Independent Romanian Orthodox
    • 2 Independent Estonian Orthodox
    • 2 Independent Greek Orthodox
    • 1 Independent Bulgarian Orthodox
    • 1 Independent Byzantine rite
    • 1 Independent Hungarian Orthodox
    • 1 Independent Macedonian Orthodox
    • 1 Independent Moldavian Orthodox

    These are all found on page 18. Adding these up we get a whopping 679 which is 3% of the 22,000 "Independent" denominations. That leaves us approximately 97% of the Independents as Protestant/Anglican, with a tiny number of "Marginal Christians" (i.e. 8 Jehovah's Witnesses breakaway groups, and a couple "mind science" cults). The "Irvingites" on page 17, although called "New Apostolic, Catholic Apostolic, Old Apostolic," are actually an Anglican / Presbyterian / Adventist, i.e. Protestant sect, neither Catholic nor Orthodox.

    So we take the 9000 Protestant denominations plus 21,340 (97% of 22,000) plus 168 (Anglicans) =
    30,000+ total Protestant/Anglican denominations.

    For a list of individual denominations, here are a couple thousand of these Independents with specific names from "World Christian Database" online.


    Protestants (about 9000 denominations)

    The second largest group of "denominations" are Protestants. The encyclopedia breaks these down into major groupings like this:

    • Adventist
    • Baptist
    • Christian Brethren (Plymouth Brethren, Open only)
    • Congregational, Congregationalist
    • Disciple, Restorationist, Restorationist Baptist, Christian
    • Dunker (Tunker), Dipper, German Baptist, Brethren
    • Exclusive Brethren (Plymouth Brethren, Closed, Strict)
    • Anglican Evangelical, Independent Evangelical
    • Fundamentalist
    • Holiness (Conservative Methodist, Wesleyan, Free Methodist)
    • Lutheran / Reformed united church or joint mission
    • Lutheran
    • Mennonite, Anabaptist (Left Wing or Radical Reformation)
    • Methodist (mainline Methodist, United Methodist)
    • Moravian (Continental Pietist)
    • Nondenominational (no church or anti-church groups)
    • Oneness-Pentecostal or Unitarian-Pentecostal: Jesus Only
    • Baptistic-Pentecostal or Keswick-Pentecostal
    • Holiness-Pentecostal: 3-crisis-experience
    • Apostolic, or Pentecostal Apostolic (living apostles)
    • Pentecostal (Protestant; Classical Pentecostal)
    • Friends (Quaker)
    • Reformed, Presbyterian
    • Salvationist (Salvation Army)
    • United church (union of bodies of different traditions)
    • Waldensian
    • community church or union congregation

    The largest of these out of 318 million total Protestants (year 1995 numbers for members, year 2000 numbers for denominations) are the Lutherans (61 million members, 253 denominations), next are Baptistic-Pentecostal/Keswick (49 million members, 396 denominations), followed by Baptists (48 million members, 322 denominations), Reformed/Presbyterian (44 million members, 300 denominations), Methodists (23 million members, 123 denominations), United church (22 million members, 54 denominations), Lutheran/Reformed united (15 million members, 24 denominations), and various Adventist groups (11 million members, 218 denominations). From these are formed nearly 9000 Protestant Christian denominations. Someone might complain about the "Oneness" groups being included since they reject the Holy Trinity (one God in three distinct Persons) and the historic Creeds, but that's how Barrett's Encyclopedia categorizes them, for whatever reason.


    Marginals (about 1600 denominations)

    The "Marginal Christian" groups include Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, various "Arian" or pseudo-Christian cults, some Christian science or "mind science" cults, some Unitarian/Universalist groups, and tiny numbers of so-called Christian or Catholic "Gnostics." These break down this way:

    • Christadelphian
    • apocalyptic, eschatological (i.e. "end times" Christians)
    • Divine Science
    • Gnostic, esoteric, anthroposophical
    • Holy Spirit Association for Unification of World Christianity (Moonies)
    • Jehovah's Witnesses (or "Russellites")
    • Latter-day Saints (Mormons), including Mormon schismatics
    • Liberal Catholic (Theosophical, Masonic, Gnostic)
    • schism from Orthodox, in marginal direction
    • Paulician, Bogomil
    • metaphysical science or "Divine/Religious Science"
    • Spiritualist, Spiritist, psychic, occult
    • Swedenborgian (Church of the New Jerusalem; spiritualistic)
    • Theosophist, Theosophical, synthesist
    • Unitarian, Universalist, Free Christian, Liberal Christian

    From these are formed nearly 1600 "denominations." The largest of these (year 1995 members, year 2000 denominations) are the JWs (11 million members, 226 denominations), next are the Mormons (8 million members, 122 denominations), and far behind are the "metaphysical" science cults (1.1 million members, 59 denominations), etc. I'll agree most of these are very borderline "Christian." They might refer to "Jesus Christ" and use the Bible in their "worship services" but for the most part they reject the historic Creeds and Councils of Christendom (Nicene, Athanasian, Ephesus, Chalcedon, etc). However, the numbers here are small compared with the numbers of Independent and Protestant denominations.


    Orthodox (781 denominations)

    This is an even smaller group of "denominations" and these are broken down as follows:

    • Albanian/Greek-speaking Orthodox
    • Arabic or Arabic/Greek-speaking Orthodox
    • Armenian Orthodox (Gregorian)
    • Bulgarian Orthodox
    • Byelorussian / Belorussian (White Russian / White Ruthenian)
    • Coptic Orthodox
    • Czech / Slavonic-speaking Orthodox
    • Estonian Orthodox
    • Ethiopic, Ethiopian Orthodox, GeOez-speaking
    • Finnish / Slavonic-speaking Orthodox
    • Georgian Orthodox
    • Greek Orthodox
    • Hungarian / Slavonic-speaking Orthodox
    • Latvian Orthodox
    • Macedonian Orthodox
    • Moldavian Orthodox
    • Assyrian or Nestorian (East Syrian, Messihaye Christians)
    • Polish / Slavonic-speaking Orthodox
    • Romanian Orthodox
    • Russian Orthodox
    • Serbian Orthodox
    • Slovak Orthodox
    • Syro-Malabarese (Eastern Syrian), Syriac/Malayalam-speaking
    • Syrian, Syriac-speaking Orthodox or Syro-Antiochian
    • Ukrainian Orthodox

    The largest of these are the Russian Orthodox at 80 million members of the 210 million total members (year 1995 numbers). So it is within these groups, mainly separated by country or nationality, you get 781 Orthodox "denominations" (year 2000 numbers).


    Roman Catholics (242 denominations)

    Now for the "Roman Catholic" denominations. These appear to be broken down by various rites:

    • Armenian (Eastern-rite Catholic)
    • Bulgarian (Byzantine rite)
    • Byzantine-rite (jurisdiction for more than one ethnic group)
    • Chaldean (Eastern Syrian rite)
    • Coptic (Alexandrian rite)
    • Ethiopic (Alexandrian rite)
    • Greek (Byzantine rite)
    • Hungarian (Byzantine rite)
    • Italo-Albanian (Byzantine rite)
    • Jurisdiction for both Latin-rite and Eastern-rite Catholics
    • Latin-rite Catholic
    • Malankara (Syro-Antiochian, Eastern Syrian), Syro-Malankarese
    • Maronite (Syro-Antiochian, Western Syrian)
    • Melkite (Byzantine, Greek Catholic; Arabic-speaking)
    • plural Oriental (jurisdiction for several Eastern rites)
    • Romanian Byzantine rite
    • Russian (Byzantine rite)
    • Ruthenian (Byzantine rite)
    • Slovak (Byzantine rite)
    • Syro-Malabarese (Eastern Syrian)
    • Syrian, Syriac-speaking (Syro-Antiochian, West Syrian)
    • Ukrainian Byzantine rite

    From these western and smaller eastern rites the encyclopedia gets 242 "Roman Catholic denominations" (year 2000 numbers). The largest is by far the Latin-rite (commonly called "Roman Catholics" by non-Catholic Christians) with 976 million members of the 994 million total members (or 98% of the total, year 1995 numbers). However, since virtually all of these western and smaller eastern rites are in union with the Pope (I am not sure of some of them), there is actually one Catholic Church, not 242 churches or denominations. Based on the encyclopedia's own definition of "denomination" the editors appear to be separating and counting by country which is how you get to 242 (or 238 countries plus 4) "denominations" of Roman Catholics. The Catholic Church in Canada is not a different "denomination" from the Catholic Church in the U.S., which is not a different Catholic Church from the one in England, etc. If you search the available "World Christian Database" online, there is indeed one Catholic Church in the U.S.A., (see also Barrett, Encyclopedia, volume 1, page 783 for the U.S.A.) and in the world there are indeed 238 "Roman Catholic" denominations (for exactly 238 countries), i.e. one Catholic Church for each country. The same "counting by country" seems to be the case with some of the denominations in the other mega-blocs.

    When dividing these "denominations" by country as they do, there are definitely some problems in figuring out the true total "denominations" since many of them are being counted more than once -- and in fact 241 times too much in the case of "Roman Catholic" denominations. Barrett's Encyclopedia states this explicitly:

    As a statistical unit in this Encyclopedia, a 'denomination' always refers to one single country. Thus the Roman Catholic Church, although a single organization, is described here as consisting of 236 denominations in the world's 238 countries. (Barrett, et al, World Christian Encyclopedia, volume 1, page 27, in the "Glossary" under definition for "Denomination" [later updated to 242], emphasis added)


    Anglicans (168 denominations)

    The smallest "mega-bloc" are the Anglicans. These are broken down in Barrett's Encyclopedia as follows:

    • Anglo-Catholic
    • Central or Broad Church Anglican
    • Ecumenical (Anglican/Protestant/Orthodox joint parishes)
    • Anglican Evangelical, Evangelical Anglican
    • High Church Anglican (Prayer Book Catholic)
    • Low Church Anglican (Conservative Evangelical)
    • Anglican, of plural or mixed traditions

    Out of these groupings the encyclopedia gets 168 specific Anglican "denominations" (year 2000 numbers).


    World Totals (33000+ Denominations)

    The grand "World Totals" at the bottom of page 18 of World Christian Encyclopedia, reads as follows:

    • Total Number of Affiliated Christians for 1970 = 1,130,106,000
    • Total Number of Affiliated Christians for 1995 = 1,769,920,000

    For the numbers of "Christian Denominations" for all mega-blocs in 238 countries we have:

    • Total Number of Denominations for 1970 = 16,075
    • Total Number of Denominations for 1995 = 33,090
    • Total Number of Denominations for 2000 = 33,909

    Acknowledgements

    The Facts and Stats on "33,000 Denominations"


    This page was created on 28 February 2008
    Updated on 31 January 2011

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