Evangelical vs Non-Denomination: What’s the Difference?


The terms “evangelical” and “non-denominational” are commonly used to describe certain Christian churches. Many people know the labels are related, but they aren’t sure how to make a distinction between.

“Evangelical” describes a broad movement in Protestantism that centers on the gospel of Jesus Christ. “Non-denominational” describes churches that aren’t associated with a denomination. Denominational or non-denominational churches can be evangelical. Most non-denominational churches are evangelical.

What is the origin and organization of evangelical and non-denominational churches? How do their beliefs and theology compare? See the comparison charts below to learn more.

What is the meaning of the name “evangelical”? See below

Evangelical and non-denominational churches compared

Because “evangelical” and “non-denominational” are broad labels, some of the answers below will be general in their description. (Please note that in this article, “evangelical” refers to the movement, not a particular denomination, with the term in it’s name, e.g. “Evangelical Methodist Church” or “Evangelical Free Church of America.”)

OVERVIEWEvangelicalNon-Denominational
Branch of ChristianityProtestantProtestant
OriginThe though the word “evangelical” comes from the New Testament word for “gospel,” the modern use of the term originated in the 20th century. It’s often distinguished from liberal and fundamentalist movements. Fundamentalism has similar theology to evangelicalism.Since non-denominational churches are disconnected from each other, they have different founding dates. Non-denominational churches started growing in number and in popularity in the 2nd half of the 20th century as mainline churches became more liberal.
MembershipMillions, but ultimately unknown Ultimately unknown became there is no central tracking or reporting system
Early influencer(s)“Evangelical” isn’t a denomination, but a movement involving several conservative denominations that subscribe to a gospel-centered theology and ministry model.“Non-denomination” by definition isn’t connected to a historic denomination, so there isn’t one founder
Meaning of nameThe word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning gospel or “good news.” The term describes a gospel-centered or cross-centered worldview.The term describes churches that aren’t affiliated with a traditional, historic, or mainline denomination.
Significant writing outside the BibleNumerous works from a variety of denominations that emphasize a gospel-centered approach to evangelism, missions, biblical interpretation, and more.Influential books include works that other evangelical and conservative Christians value.
OrganizationEvangelicalism isn’t a denomination but a movement consisting of numerous denominations and even non-denominational churches.Non-denominational churches are organized in that they each have a church government, which is usually congregational. There is no regional, state, or national organization.
Pastor qualificationsEvery denomination has their own requirements that often include affirmation of calling, education, and ministry experiencePastors have varying degrees of formal education, but most have attended a Bible college or seminary. There are no certification or accreditation opportunities.
DivisionsThere is significant diversity within evangelical Christianity. Evangelical churches can have different theologies (though they are mostly Protestant), organizational models, and convictions on theological and social issues.Divisions aren’t part of the non-denominational tradition because each church is independent. However, non-denominational churches can have internal divisions like any other church.

“First of all, the evangelical is one who is entirely subservient to the Bibleā€¦ This is true of every evangelical. He is a man of one book; he starts with it; he submits himself to it; this is his authority.”

British preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)

Beliefs, theology, and doctrine of evangelical and non-denominational churches

Because non-denominational churches are largely conservative, they share many similarities with evangelical churches.

BELIEFSEvangelicalNon-Denominational
Theological and social worldviewHistorically, evangelical churches are conservative theologically and socially. In recent years, some self-identifying evangelical churches have drifted from conservative theology and adopted modern social values on a variety of issues.Non-denominational churches tend to be Protestant, evangelical, and conservative.
TheologyEvangelical churches can be Arminian, Calvinist, Baptist, or something else.Non-denominational churches can be Arminian, Calvinist, Baptist, or something else.
GodTrinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each God, and there is one GodTrinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each God, and there is one God
JesusJesus is 100% man and 100% God, he lived a sinless life, died on the cross as an atonement for sin, and rose three days laterJesus is 100% man and 100% God, he lived a sinless life, died on the cross as an atonement for sin, and rose three days later
Is the Holy Spirit God?The Holy Spirit is GodThe Holy Spirit is God
Speaking in tonguesSome evangelical churches practice speaking in tongues and some don’t.Some non-denominational churches practice speaking in tongues and some don’t.
The BibleHistorically, all evangelical churches have a high view of Scripture even if they don’t always use the terms “inerrancy” and “infallibility.”Most non-denominational churches have a high view of Scripture.
SinHistorically, all evangelical churches have held to the doctrine of original sin.Most non-denominational churches believe in original sin.
View of the atonementHistorically, evangelical churches have held to a penal-substitutionary atonement. The cross of Christ was originally the center of the movement.Most non-denominational churches believe in the penal-substitutionary atonement of Christ.
SalvationHistorically, evangelical churches believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone.Most non-denominational churches believe that salvation is grace through faith in Christ alone.
Calvinist or Arminian? Can be eitherCan be either
Spiritual giftsEvangelical churches have a variety of beliefs about spiritual gifts. Some believe all spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible are operational today, while others don’t.Some believe all gifts are operation today and others don’t
OrdinancesWater baptism and the Lord’s Supper; consistent with Protestant convictions.Water baptism and the Lord’s Supper
Water BaptismEvangelical churches may be credo-baptist or paedo-baptist (paedo = “child”), which means they baptize children.Baptizing adults believers is most common*
The Lord’s SupperEvangelical churches have a variety of views on the Lord’s Supper.The memorial view of the bread and cup is most common*
EschatologyEvangelical churches may be premillennial, amillennial, post-millennial of something else. All believe in the Second Coming of Christ.Non-denominational can be premillennial, amillennial, or postmillennial. The Second Coming of Christ is a central doctrine for conservatives.

*Non-denominational churches and Baptist churches have many similarities. The reason for this is because the traditions share a common conviction: independence. Non-denominational churches are the first movement in American Protestantism to champion the autonomy of the local church. Baptists have held that value for centuries and it is one of the reasons it has numerically been the most successful denomination in American history.

In many ways, non-denominational churches borrowed the template that Baptist churches have used for generations. As a result, other Baptist influences, like adult baptism and viewing the bread and cup as a memorial, have become part of non-denominational church practices.

References:
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Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel has been in Christian ministry for 25 years. He has been an Associate Pastor and a Senior Pastor. Currently in higher education, Daniel has taught more than 25 different undergraduate courses in Bible and theology-related topics.

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