Eight Reasons People Are Leaving Denominational Churches for Non-denominational Churches

While working on an unrelated research project, I recently came across some data published by the Hartford Institute of Religion Research. Though the information was five years old, it still seemed highly relevant today. In essence, the data showed that non-denominational churches are now the second largest Protestant group in America. Only the Southern Baptist Convention is larger.

Here are some of the fascinating nuggets from that study:

  • There are more than 12 million people who affiliate with non-denominational churches.
  • The research found at least 35,000 non-denominational churches in America.
  • Non-denominational churches are in 88% of the counties in the United States.
  • Non-denominational churches are one of the top five largest religious groups in 48 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In light of the growth of these churches, I conducted an informal Twitter poll and asked why people are moving to non-denominational congregations from churches affiliated with denominations. Here are the top eight responses in order. There is obvious overlap in some of the responses.

  1. Denominational churches have a negative reputation. Some respondents used the phrase “negative brand” to communicate this reason.
  2. Denominations are known more for what they are against than what they are for.
  3. There is too much infighting and politics in denominations.
  4. The denominational churches are too liberal. From what I can tell from these respondents, they are current and former members of mainline churches.
  5. There is a general waning of institutional loyalty in institutions such as denominations.
  6. Denominations have inefficient systems and organizations. They are too bureaucratic.
  7. Some of the respondents could see no perceived benefit to belonging to denominations.
  8. Denominations are not good stewards of their financial resources.

I plan on doing a second poll in the near future to see how respondents view denominations positively. In the meantime, let me hear from you.

Posted on April 22, 2015


With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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190 Comments

  • Usually, I never comment on blogs, but your article is so convincing that I become unable to stop myself from saying something about it. You’re doing a great job Man, Keep it up.

  • My gosh, reading the comments is like reading a comparison between apples and oranges. Denominations were created by one scism after another, and one institutionalized group after another. Both denominational and non-denominational are politically active and seek to Christianize the world to a form of Godliness which is not really Godliness. The question should be, is the Church body that you are currently active in doctrinally sound, and is it seeking to build up it’s members and allowing the members to use their spiritual gifts to edify the body, rather than a central governing body dictating how they are supposed to act and what their political affiliations should be. The home churches in the New Testament were very independent from each other. They took their doctrinal cue from the Jerusalem leadership, but were free to worship how they saw fit. We should be asking ourselves if we are glorifying God and making true disciples of Christ, or are we taking God’s place by judging the world.

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