33,000 + denominations? What does the actual data point to?

Here is a Catholic from these forums (PhilVaz) who looked into the issue in some depth and recored the actual source:

Basically the truth is the Encyclopedia quoted says there are 33,000 Christian bodies total in 238 countries (ie there are 238 countries in the world). Thus if the Catholic Church exists in 238 countries it will be be counted as 238 of that 33,000. Given this info about the Catholic (and minus the Orthodox which are a little higher) the Protestant bodies number about 30,000 of the 33,000 over 238 countries. And if each of those denominations is located in every single country that means there are actually 126 distinct denominations. However it is unrealistic to say that each of those denominations is located in every single country, in fact I would say quite the opposite. Lets just say 100 of those 126 distinct denominations were in every country though, that means (238 x 100 =) 23,800 of the 30,000 are “repeats”, yet that still leaves a total of 6,200 distinct denominations. If only 50 of those 126 are in every country then the total of denominations is 18,100.

So in the end, yes often trumpeted number of 33,000 DISTINCT denominations is incorrect based on the actual source from which that number was drawn. That being said it isnt a stretch to say based on the evidence there are easily 10,000 distinct Protestant denominations (and that is me giving the benefit of the doubt) total given the great unlikelihood that each denomination has a church in all 238 countries.

In my opinion the fair numbering is “only” (:eek:) about 10,000 distinct protestant denominations.

Yet ther is probably less theological difference in personal belief between the Nazarene and Baptist on my street than the two RCs.


Did you compare the official doctrines of the two denominations?

The Catholic Church has one official teaching, and thus any Catholic not in line with that teaching has separated themself from the Church and are no longer Catholic by definition.

As a Protestant I can attest that the actual doctrinal differences among many of the denominations are small to nonexistent. However, even if we defined “denomination” pretty broadly (e.g. lumped most Baptists together, etc.), I’m sure there would still be at least hundreds and possibly thousands of doctrinally-distinct “denominations.” Even 10000 wouldn’t be inconceivable, especially if the more marginal (read: wacko) groups are included. More than that is probably a stretch though.

I personally don’t like to see the 33,000 number bandied around. We pretty much know that is not true. I think that the last time I looked at the study the 33,000 number comes from the most conservative number was around 6,000 so I go with that.

The point is that there is to much division and that it is growing. There is no need to be dishonest about it.

I’ve never believed that 33,000+ number. I do think there’s over 4000+ though. That alone is bad enough. :frowning:

John 17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be -]one/-] [four thousand], even as we are one.

Hey you forgot the “running count” at the bottom of the page using my Javascript trick. We’re now at 39,375 total Christian denominations.

I’ve said before there are some “problems” with the way the Encyclopedia is counting, since it counts Catholic “denominations” by country. But I wanted to report exactly what that source said. James White in his blog (a few months back) and others hadn’t done that, or they left out some important information, such as that 97% of the “Independents” are indeed Protestant groups. So…

(97% * 22,000 Independents) + 9000 Protestants = 30,000+ Protestant denominations in 2001. Add to those the Anglicans.

See also the letter (bottom of same page) from Gordon-Conwell “Global Christianity” site on the updated 39,000 number as of mid-2007.

“I can assure you that the figure of 39,000 is in no way inflated. This number represents our most current, up-to-date data.” – from Justin J. Evans, Research Assistant, Center for the Study of Global Christianity (9/28/2007)

I’m just reporting accurately from the source (World Christian Encyclopedia), with a little bit of analysis. It’s still the best source we have today for how many denominations there are. You want to argue the numbers or with their methods, argue with and from the source. The 2001 edition is available in two volumes from any local university or seminary library, and is kept “up to date” by Gordon-Conwell (an evangelical seminary).

Phil P

I do not believe that it is accurate though to use the figure or 30,000 plus denominations as indication that there are that many different beliefs or interpretations. As you note 22,000 of those (and probably more now) are independent churches. That does not mean that they all have different teachings. It simplly means that they believe the Church is made up of a multitude of local congregations and not large denominations. The 9000 Protestant figure is subject to the same qualification as the 200+ Catholic denominations that are counted by country. Because there Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian or Methodist denominations in many countries does not mean that the teachings differ from country to country.
Yes Protestantism is divided. However it bothers me to see it claimed that there are 33,000 Protestant denominations each teaching something different when that is not the case.


As a Protestant I can attest that the actual doctrinal differences among many of the denominations are small to nonexistent.

Though I say with respect, it is my experience that the doctrinal unity is only on paper… All agree baptism is required, however some say water baptism, others spiritual only, other say infant, others no infant… And thats just one subject.

Some believe in communion as body and blood, others say it is just a symbol.

Same thing with the trinity, repentance, what Sin is, dispensations, even what Faith means.

What is even more interesting is that there is little to no agreement on what Faith alone and Scripture alone really mean. All Protestant churches profess they teach these, but when you get down to what these two core tenants of protestantism actually means, agreement quickly falls away. The best way to test this is and show it is true, get a set of theological questions, open a phone book and randomly pick various churches. (questions need to be deeper than “do you believe in faith alone?”) You will quickly find that this Doctrinal Unity is non-existent, even within denominations.

I am not saying this to instigate a fight, or single this one quote out, but to point out that the claim that all protestants agree on the core aspects of faith, or that they are unified is not in anyway true.

In Christ

Well while that I think the number gives a false impression because of how it is seperated by country. I do think it is reasonable to count “independant” Churches.

While it is true that some of these are stealth churches that remove the denominational titles from their names so that they can catch “seekers”. It is also true that many of these independant churches are theological cafeterias, and while they certainly don’t espouse anything new in relation to Protestant theology they do tend to mix it up or even make standing theology more vague. In other words they are doing their own thing and their intent is to be something other than the established denominations. As such I think it is more than reasonable to count them as seperate denominations they want to be seperate and they certainly wouldn’t claim to be part of another established group (otherwise they wouldn’t be independant) so they have seperated themselves.

It should also be noted that some of the more successful independant churches also go on to plant seed churches and as such spread their particular spiritual outlook.

I do think we need to be careful in the number we do use, making sure it is backed by a credible and verified source. Otherwise we run the risk of being challenged on a forum to prove it.

It is the first time I have heard it so high of course. Back in the 1990’s the number was 10,000 then 20,000 in the 2000’s Now 33,000.

At any rate, the point about what the number of denominations (whether 4000 or 40,000) is that it is clearly too high when Christ prayed that we may be one and Paul spoke against factions, but let’s be careful not to let that point be derailed by an argument of proving the figure used.

But it does not follow that an independent church in Phoenix is teaching something different than one in Boston or Atlanta. My real objection is not to the numbers themselves but to asserting that there are 33000 churches all teaching different things.

It may not follow by default that an independant body in Boston teaches differently than one in Phoenix but in reality it is entirely and even likely that they do. Perhaps not drastically different but it very likely they will teach different things.

Don’t get me wrong, I see the point you’re trying to make and it is certainly something to keep in mind when looking at all of this. I’m just saying that even if one takes the specific teachings into account for the independant churches I don’t think the numbers would change that much.

For some independants and more democratic denominations this can be further complicated by the fact that some of these groups actually put more stock in what the individual congregation or even the individual believer believes as opposed to the what the governing body suggests. So for these groups one could make an argument that denomination could even be further broke down to counting individual churches and people.

I’m not saying anyone should do that but I think you can see my point. Of course that isn’t a universal quality within Protestantism I very aware that many Protestant groups endeavor to hold on to a systematic and disciplined theology. But for the more libertarian or democratic denominations truly anything can go.

When I was a Southern Baptist I belonged to a conservative, inerrant Bible believing, pro-life, no female ordinations congregation. I could take you 5 miles away to another Southern Baptist Church who’s pro-choice, female pastor would explain how that the Bible was mostly folklore and myth.

Both Churches belonged to the same denomination and were both in good standing (we paid into the co-operative program). Our convention did not give us theological direction because that was the job of the local congregation. So while we both paid membership to the same group our congregations were being taught completely different gospels.

Now some may say “well every church has its liberal elements”. I’d agree with that except in this case the governement of the donomination itself had established that these things were to be handled locally. So in fact both my church and the other one 5 miles away were being taught in the manner that our denominational authority had established.

The local church decides who it will ordain and who it will establish as its pastor. It does this by listening to them preach. If the local congregation likes what the preacher is saying they’ll accept him. So in many ways the local congregation decides what gospel they want to hear. If the pastor says something you don’t like then you can leave and go to a church where the pastor teaches what you agree with. This is a recipe for denominationalism.

So to be honest if the those who count denominations really wanted to get nit-picky about breaking the lines across what is legitimately taught then the number very possible would sky rocket. Especially when one keeps in mind that some of the more democratic denominations are amongst the largest.

Absolutely. The differences between many Protestant “denominations” are often small.

And what exactly is the specific teaching on Mary as co-redemptrix? She’s not defined as such officially in RCC teaching, and yet I’m sure there are Roman Catholics from every country who stand on both sides of the issue. Thus, we should multiply the “Catholic” number by two for that issue alone.

You claim unity, but that’s only unity in a certain number of things, not actual complete unity. You draw a line in the sand saying “here’s how we’re going to classify all denominations as being united or disunited”. Well, what if I choose to draw a line that defines the tenets in the Nicene creed (or some other small group of doctrines) as the defining measure. I’ll bet the number of “Protestant” groups goes way, way, down.

But how many of those can you even call Christian? And how do you define what “Christian” is? One could define it as either Christian (holding all the beliefs that Christ intended us to hold), and non-Christian (holding something in difference), in which case there are only two groupings. Unfortunately, these would be defined differently, depending on who you’re talking to and what they believe. That’s where the problem comes in.

So, how do you draw the line about what constitutes a different denomination? How much agreement, and on what doctrines/dogmas, must there be unanimity?

Please go check out the underlying Greek, not to mention the surrounding text, before you -]butcher/-] misrepresent scripture in such a way. A little study (being open to what it really says) goes a long way. Thanks. Specifically, go check out what “one” means, and have a look at what this one-ness was to include according to Jesus’ words.

There are, no doubt, groups of hundreds of churches which have much the same beliefs. It goes even farther. I know a local Evangelical Free church whose beliefs are so close to a local Baptist church that they don’t argue about anything, and disagree about very little (mostly minor issues). And yet, they’re each part of a supposedly different denomination.

Yes, there’s more disagreement between Roman Catholics in different areas (or even the same area) than there is between some Protestant “denominations”. The only difference is that Roman Catholics choose to draw a line in the sand in certain ways.

Yes, I suppose you might come up with a dozen or two major groupings of Protestants, with each of those groupings consisting of churches which share almost all of the same beliefs – a far, far cry from 33,000.

Now, if someone would like to make a case and show me dozens (I’m not even asking for 100 – just dozens) of groups which claim to be Protestant and yet all hold vastly different beliefs, we might be going somewhere, but for the most part, this is just an argument of ignorance. One has to really understand how the numbers were derived, and why that distinction is valid or invalid before one can say that the numbers are accurate.

[edit] Oh, and someone might also take the time to show that defining a denomination based on earthly organizations is actually appropriate.

I’ll make an objective case. Below are some issues which have historically divided Christians - divided as in congregations have chosen not to worship regularly with one another as a result of them. Perhaps you even have some issues I have not included here - please add them to the list. If there are some which you believe are not worthy of being considered a “division” (ie resulting in a separate denonination in Christianity) then remove them from the list. When you are done I will produce an objective number of denominations.
*]Jesus is God (vs not)
*]Hell is real (vs not)
*]Real Presence (vs symbol)
*]Water Baptism important (vs unnecessary)
*]Infant Baptism (vs adult, believer)
*]Baptism by Immersion (vs other)
*]Confession in Church (vs directly to God)
*]OSAS (vs able to lose salvation)
*]Homosexuality OK (vs a sin)
*]Divorce OK (vs a sin)
*]Alcohol use OK (vs a sin)
*]Contraception OK (vs a sin)
*]Abortion OK (vs a sin)
*]Women ministers (vs men only)
*]Gay ministers (vs no homosexual ministers)
*]Rapture (vs no)
*]Millenialism (vs Amillenialism)
*]Sunday Worship (vs Saturday)[/LIST]

I wonder how many bishops are included in that definition. hard to know I guess.

LOL. It makes us all wonder.

The verse in Greek is:
11 Καὶ οὐκέτι εἰμὶ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ, καὶ οὗτοι ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ εἰσίν, καὶ ἐγὼ πρός σε ἔρχομαι. Πάτερ ἅγιε, τήρησον αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου, ᾧ δέδωκάς μοι, ἵνα ὦσιν ἕν, καθὼς ἡμεῖς.
The New Testament in the original Greek : Byzantine Textform 2005, with morphology. 2006 (Jn 17:11). Bellingham: Logos Research Systems.

The word is ἕν
from the root εἷς

  1. as a Numeral, εἷς κοίρανος ἔστω Il.2.204, etc.; strengthd., εἷς οἶος, μία οἴη, a single one, one alone, 4.397, Od.7.65; μία μούνη 23.227; εἷς μοῦνος Hdt.1.119, Ar.Pl.1053, etc.; εἷς καὶ μόνος D.H.1.74; εἷς ὤν S.OT247, E.Ph.894, etc.; opp. πολύς, μία τὰς πολλὰς ψυχὰς ὀλέσασα A.Ag.1456, cf.1465, Ch.299, etc.

  2. Math., τὸ ἕν unity, opp. πλὴθος, Pythag.Fr.5, etc.: pl., ἕνα units, Arist.Metaph.1056b21; ὁ ἀριθμός ἐστιν ἕνα πλείω Id.Ph.207b7; τῶν προτέρων ἑνῶν Dam.Pr.460.

  3. Philos., ἕν, τό, unity, the One, ἐκ πάντων ἓν καὶ ἐξ ἑνὸς πάντα Heraclit.10, cf. Emp.17.1, etc.: later indecl., ἓν εἶναι τοῦ ἓν παρουσίᾳ Plot.6.6.14, cf. 5.5.5.
    Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. “With a revised supplement, 1996.” (Rev. and augm. throughout) (492). Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press.Press; Oxford University Press.

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