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 distinguish between them.
“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.
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. (Also see What Denominations Speak in Tongues?)
Please note that in this article, “evangelical” refers to the movement, not a particular denomination, with the term in its name, e.g., “Evangelical Methodist Church” or “Evangelical Free Church of America.”
|Branch of Christianity||Protestant||Protestant|
|Origin||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.|
|Membership||Millions, 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 name||The 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, historical, or mainline denomination.|
|Significant writing outside the Bible||Numerous works from a variety of denominations emphasize a gospel-centered approach to evangelism, missions, biblical interpretation, and more.||Influential books include works that other evangelical and conservative Christians value.|
|Organization||Evangelicalism 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 qualifications||Every denomination has its own requirements that often include affirmation of calling, education, and ministry experience.||Non-denominational pastors have varying degrees of formal education, but most have attended a Bible college or seminary. There are no certification or accreditation opportunities.|
|Divisions||There 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 Bible… 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. (Also see What Version of the Bible Do Non-Denominational Churches Use?)
|Theological and Social Worldview||Historically, 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.|
|Theology||Evangelical churches can be Arminian, Calvinist, Baptist, or something else.||Non-denominational churches can be Arminian, Calvinist, Baptist, or something else.|
|God||Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each God, and there is one God||Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each God, and there is one God|
|Jesus||Jesus 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.||Jesus 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 God||The Holy Spirit is God|
|Speaking in tongues||Some evangelical churches practice speaking in tongues, and some don’t.||Some non-denominational churches practice speaking in tongues, and some don’t.|
|The Bible||Historically, 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.|
|Sin||Historically, all evangelical churches have held to the doctrine of original sin.||Most non-denominational churches believe in original sin.|
|View of the Atonement||Historically, 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.|
|Salvation||Historically, 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 either||Can be either|
|Spiritual gifts||Evangelical 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 operational today, and others don’t.|
|Ordinances||Water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are consistent with Protestant convictions.||Water baptism and the Lord’s Supper|
|Water Baptism||Evangelical churches may be credo-baptist or paedo-baptist (paedo = “child”), which means they baptize children.||Baptizing adults believers is most common*|
|The Lord’s Supper||Evangelical churches have a variety of views on the Lord’s Supper.||The memorial view of the bread and cup is most common.*|
|Eschatology||Evangelical churches may be Premillennial, Amillennial, Post-millennial, or 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. This is because the traditions share a common conviction: independence. Non-denominational churches are the first movement in American Protestantism to champion the local church’s autonomy. Baptists have held that value for centuries, which is one of the reasons it has numerically been the most successful denomination in American history.
- Also, see What Denominations Are Calvinist?
- Also, see What Denominations Are Arminian?
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.
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