5 Reasons Why Non-Denominational Churches Are Growing

While we continue to see reports of denominational decline in America, we see fewer reports of the growth of non-denominational churches. It is actually an amazing story.

Two denominations that receive a lot of attention are the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church. These two denominations have historically been the two largest Protestant denominations in the United States. The UMC has been in a steady decline for years, but that decline has been exacerbated by the departure of thousands of congregations in the past three years. The denomination’s membership decline will likely be 40 percent from its peak after the full effect of the disaffiliation movement transpires. UMC attendance in the United States has fallen from around 3 million to about 2 million. The numbers again will likely be much worse after the full disaffiliation effect takes place.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s peak membership was 16.2 million in 2006. In 2022, it was 13.2 million. Even more telling are the attendance numbers. The SBC’s peak weekly attendance was 6.2 million in 2009. By 2022, weekly attendance declined to 3.8 million. That decline in attendance is almost 40% in 13 years! (By the way, if you want to get great quantitative research on churches, subscribe to Ryan Burge at Graphs about Religion).

Non-Denominational Growth

According to Burge, 13 percent of total American adults now identify as non-denominational. That is more than all mainline denominations combined. It is also more than the two largest Protestant denominations (the SBC and the UMC) combined.

Burge notes that the “nons” is the second biggest story in American Christianity (The rise of the “nones” is the biggest story. ). While he reports the information from a statistical viewpoint, we at Church Answers are attempting to answer the “why” question. Why are non-denominational churches growing while most all denominations are declining? We see five possible answers to this question.

Five Reasons

We must be careful with our attempts to explain the growth of the non-denominational movement. First, our information is anecdotal rather than data based. Though our team at Church Answers interacts with thousands of church leaders and church members, we have not conducted a rigorous statistical study on this group.

Second, non-denominational churches are far from monolithic. They vary in worship style, doctrine, polity, and many other points. Those variables make analysis even more difficult. Nevertheless, we offer five reasons from our observations.

1. Non-denominational churches tend to be more evangelistic. For a number of possible reasons, these congregations are more intentional about reaching their communities with the gospel. We often see stark contrasts in the priority of evangelism between non-denominational churches and denominational churches.

2. Non-denominational churches typically invest more financially in reaching their communities. Though I could have combined the first two reasons, it is worth noting that the budget of a non-denominational church will often include a higher percentage of their funds used for local evangelism. Denominational church budgets usually allocate more funds for national denominational causes.

3. Non-denominational churches usually do not engage in issues of conflict to the level that denominational churches do. A church has only a finite amount of resources of time, money, and energy. The more that is expended on divisive issues, the less that can be expended on local outreach. We understand that many of these issues are gospel-centric and must be discussed and debated. Sadly, though, the resources spent on these issues often come at the expense of those priorities with a Great Commission focus.

4. Non-denominational churches do not carry the “name” baggage that a denominational church might carry. I think this issue can be overstated. A church with “Baptist” or “Methodist” or “Presbyterian” in its name can still be effective and can still grow. It is hard to know how many unchurched people decide not to visit a denominational church because of its name. Admittedly, though, if it’s a small percentage of the unchurched who make such a decision, that small percentage can have a big negative impact.

5. Non-denominational churches tend to be newer churches that grow faster than older churches. I hope our team can pursue a statistically valid study of the age of churches in America. I think it will confirm our anecdotal observations. The rapid growth of the non-denominational movement is a relatively recent phenomenon. That means many of the non-denominational churches are newer. These newer churches tend to focus more on local growth and evangelism.

We will continue to explore the fascinating topic on the “nons,” including the research of Burge. But I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Let me hear from you.

Posted on December 11, 2023

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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  • Richard Smith says on

    I am a life long Methodist and became a part time local pastor 14 years ago. I agree with you that true evangelism and living into the great commission by smaller church congregations is not practiced much. Being intentional about seeking and truly welcoming those we don’t know and being open to a relationship with them is not a priority. I believe it is why there is attendance decline in traditional denominations. We aren’t being a true church when our focus is inward.
    While “outreach” may be happening and is a priority, it usually involves gathering items or writing a check for people that are never met. John Wesley would be shaking his head. There needs to be a willingness to make a personal investment in others to make a difference.
    While individual local pastors can help changing some hearts there must be a top down focus in traditional denominations on the true priority of congregations.

  • As a believer who is looking for a new church home as I transition out of the UMC, I wonder how much of it is due to the extent to which the mainline denominations have relied on “brand identity” as their primary form of outreach. There are churches who behave as if the sign out front is the only thing they need to attract the community. All the younger generations know about the “name brands” is what they hear on the news, and that is most assuredly not Good News.

  • Non denominational churches typically do not “have their hands tied” by being forced to comply with often outdated methodologies and rigid “statements of faith”. In a sense, they are not bound to do things as they’ve always been done, thus allowing for freedom to explore new methods of reaching the lost and ministering to their communities. Having spent nearly equal amounts of time over the past 45 years in both denominational and non denominational churches, I can state unequivocally that for me personally the advantages of being non denominational outweigh denominational churches when it comes to “being all things to all people”.

  • David J. McCarty says on

    Do you feel that many of the non-denominational churches steer away from having crosses present on the churches and in their buildings because it is seen by many in our culture as a negative thing? Could it be because the services are more contemporary centered with the music, the setting, and the message given by the Pastor/Minister. I know many of these churches do not talk about the Law, the devil, hell, or the consequences of our sin which is eternal death. If God is loving, holy, and good He certainly would not send anyone to a place like hell. The Gospel should dominate the message, but we do not need a Savior if sin is not an issue, right. We cannot adhere to a mentality which is more concerned about preaching to what itching ears want to hear, than to proclaiming the whole message of Holy Scripture!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      David –

      I cannot confirm those questions you’ve asked about non-denominational churches. I would simply say you cannot assume all non-denominational churches are alike. There is a lot of variety among them.

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