What is with "non-denominational Christians"?


#1

Why does it seem that among non-Catholic Christians, the “in” thing to be is “non-denominational Christian” rather than a mainline Protestant denomination (Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian) or even any kind of identity such as Baptist, or fundamentalist, or evangelical? It seems that any kind of label is viewed as tainted and to be “non-denominational Christian” is so much more holy or pure or something. I have had Protestant friends say that it is better to be “non-denominational” because then you have more choices when shopping for a church.

Is it related to the fact that Protestants seem not to go to church on a regular basis? I assume this translates into not being a member and not financially supporting a church either. But they can still call themselves “Christian” or “non-denominational Christian”!

I am astounded at how many small towns have 4 or 5 churches on the main street, but only the Catholic Church has more than one religious service and any kind of attendance. In the little town that I live in, the Catholic parish has an attendance of 1000 at Sunday Masses and the only full-time priest (or minister) in town. The other churches are 100 to 150 years old, beautiful historic buildings, part-time ministers, and regular attendance of 20 or 30 at their one Sunday service. What a sad state of affairs this is!


#2

During my sojurn with the Anglicans (of past and now happily fading memory :slight_smile: ) I got a glimpse into that phenomenon.

First off, if they are “evangelical,” they WILL identify as such. There’s a number of sundry church communities (gospel halls, etc.) in the area, and that is the one label they do display. Some evangelicals will be a part of the evangelical association, but as churches, they are separate entities.

The “mainline” denominations are in a bit of disarray because of the encroaching of modernist revisionism. Presbyterians, Anglicans, Lutherans (but NOT the Missouri Synod), even some Baptists have been hit by it. When it takes hold, it empties churches, and the refugees do not want to get stuck to another bigger organization, when the one they were in went down that road.

I can’t speak to what’s going on in the countryside, because Greater Vancouver isn’t exactly that. But these autonomous evangelical churches, plus the mega-churches (we have several in the Lower Mainland area) which avoid displaying a denominational label, seem busy. But the labeled mainline Protestant churches are not doing well.

And I suspect that many who leave a church that is revising the faith simply end up not going anywhere.

Blessings,

Gerry


#3

This must be how it is in your area. Most Roman Catholics I know don’t attend. Most Protestants I know do.

As for non-denominational…I actually agree with you to an extent. A lot of time, the only reason such groups exist is because people are afraid to commit. However, you also must realize that a denomination isn’t going to save anyone…so that’s why any label other than Christian is superfluous.

~mango~


#4

[quote=mango_2003]This must be how it is in your area. Most Roman Catholics I know don’t attend. Most Protestants I know do.

As for non-denominational…I actually agree with you to an extent. A lot of time, the only reason such groups exist is because people are afraid to commit. However, you also must realize that a denomination isn’t going to save anyone…so that’s why any label other than Christian is superfluous.~mango~
[/quote]

So, mango, do you attend church regularly and know this first hand? If so, are you Catholic or Protestant? I think I am more aware of what happens here because I currently live in a small town. When I lived in a large suburb, it was not as apparent though it seemed that the Protestant mainline churches had a steady but small core of regular attendees at their one Sunday service. In contrast, the Catholic churches were full for most Masses. But maybe you are right, that it is regional.


#5

Non-denominational churches usually have a very high degree of commitment–considerably higher than Catholics in many ways. The mainline churches are the ones that have a lot of members who don’t show up often or who don’t tithe or participate a lot. So it’s actually the opposite of what you suggest–people join non-denominational churches because they demand more of them and also offer a stronger sense of community, more definite doctrinal and moral guidance, etc., besides a lively, contemporary style of worship (in many cases).

According to survey data found at adherents.com/rel_USA.html (you have to scroll down quite a ways for this–it’s under “Largest Denominational Families in the U.S., 2001, based on church attendance, ARIS/Barna”), 1.2 % of the population identify themselves as non-denominational Christians. Of these, 61% reported having gone to church in the past week (these data were reached by compiling two different studies, it should be noted–the self-identification figures were from one study and the church attendance figures from another). That’s a higher percentage than the 48% of self-identifying Catholics who had been to church in the past week. In fact it’s higher than any group except Pentecostals and Mormons (Assemblies of God are listed separately, but they are a Pentecostal denomination). However, that gives less than 1% of the population attending a non-denominational church on a given Sunday, as opposed to 12% in Catholic churches, 8% Baptist, and 3% Methodist.

So these data would completely contradict what you are saying. According to these studies, a very small percentage of the population are non-denominational Protestants, but they are relatively serious about going to church every week–significantly more so than Catholics. Argue with Barna, not me, if you don’t agree!

I do think that a lot of people who belong to various denominations think and act more like non-denominational Protestants–i.e., they have low degrees of denominational loyalty and derive their doctrines and preferred styles of worship from trans-denominational trends rather than from what their particular tradition tells them. Many churches play down denominational affiliation and can easily be mistaken for non-denominational churches (in Durham, N.C., where I used to live, the local Nazarene church didn’t use “Nazarene” in their name and attracted a lot of people who wanted lively contemporary worship but didn’t care a hoot about Nazarene theology. I was told that the pastors did preach occasionally about what the church believed as Nazarenes, so presumably members of the church would have been conscious enough of their identity to identify themselves as Nazarene on a survey–though Nazarene or Holiness are not options on the survey data I cited, which cover only the largest groups in the U.S.). So you may perceive that there are far more non-denominational churches than is in fact the case.

In Christ,

Edwin


#6

Just to throw in my two cents, as a former “non-denominational Christian”:

I grew up in a non-denominational church, which, looking back, was of the Evangelical/Fundamentalist brand of Christianity (though we never used either of these terms). We called ourselves non-denominational because, unlike the other denominations, we claimed to rely on the Bible alone–no “extra” rules, teachings, disciplines, etc. (This, of course, was faulty thinking, but I didn’t realize it then.) Also, our congregation was a stand-alone community, unaffiliated with any other churches or movements. We took pride in these characteristics, as we believed we were living a “pure” form of Christianity, directly subject to Christ himself.

This church was in a very large city, so I can only speak from the suburban experience, but our church members were incredibly involved, dedicated to serving the community, and cheerfully generous in tithing. The church was also growing every year–when I left, they had a few thousand members: very active high school, college, and Sunday school ministries, and several services every Sunday. I still drive by the place all the time, and the parking lot is always full on the weekends and during week-night Bible studies. Most of the other non-denominational churches in the area are also growing. So my observations have been closer to Contarini’s in that sense.

So I don’t think the title has anything to do with a lack of commitment. At least in my experience, the title was more a way of describing the brand of faith to which we subscribed.

I hope that helps! God Bless.


#7

It sounds like people who identify themselves as non-denominational Christians are more likely to be a member of a Church and to support it financially. Indeed, those empty churches that I was referring to were mainline denominations. I don’t think non-denominational churches are anywhere near as big in the Northeast as in the South. I was amazed by how many little strip-mall churches we saw in the South. Must be partly regional. But aren’t nondenominational churches also more likely to be focused on the pastor, and more fluid in terms of their membership. I have heard that people are pushed out, or break away and find or form another church, and they tend to be usually a small congregation. Though many of the mega churches are also nondenominational it seems. And what’s with those mega churches?


#8

La Chiara,

Non-denoms really are an extremely varied bunch. On the one hand, you have the “mega-churches,” many of which are non-denominational but some of which are affiliated with various denominations. In those cases, though, they tend to act very independently and play down denominational affiliation (though not always). Megachurches are predicated on a rather utilitarian model of church, IMHO. They have multiple services every week, structured so that everyone can find their “niche.” They tend to focus on evangelism of unbelievers and instruction of believers rather than on simply worshipping God (indeed, a proponent of this model would probably find my assumption that one can “simply worship God” to be narcissistic, naive, and reflective of some kind of heretical notion that God needs something from us). In these churches, the primary sense of identity often resides in small groups which meet at some point during the week. Thus, in spite of their huge size, megachurches have a very strong sense of community and (when it works right) everyone feels like they belong. Don’t scoff at this–I think it’s far more important than Catholics generally recognize. Megachurches usually are conservative in their doctrinal and moral teaching, but on the whole emphasize discipleship and practical Christian living rather than the finer points of theology. They thus tend to be fairly open and ecumenical–few megachurches would say that “Catholics are not Christians,” for instance, though they might regard Catholicism as very bad at teaching people and bringing them into a living relationship with God. Some megachurches do focus heavily on the pastor, who however is seen more as a manager and facilitator than as a priest or prophet. This can lead to a personality cult, or in other cases it can lead to a deemphasis on the pastor and a genuine attempt to develop everyone’s gifts, so that leadership is distributed widely. Also, megachurches have a large staff, so there isn’t going to be one single pastor to focus on, although the senior pastor may be a very strong and colorful personality and that’s when “personality cults” can develop.

Then you have the small fundamentalist “store-front churches,” which are at the opposite end from megachurches. Again, these may be affiliated with a denomination or loose fellowship of congregations, but if so it will be a small, conservative group, not one of the “mainline” denominations. These churches focus tightly on toeing the line, both doctrinally and morally. They require a very high level of commitment and members usually feel very close to each other. They tend to condemn both the Catholic Church and “mainline” Protestant churches as apostate or at least lukewarm. These churches often (but not always) have a very authoritarian model, with the pastor seen as the “man of God,” basically a prophet-figure who must be listened to.

Then you have house churches–groups of people who meet in living rooms for worship. These tend to have the pragmatism and unconventionality of the megachurches combined with the rather suspicious attitude toward the outside world characteristic of the more fundamentalist congregations. Typically house churches are the most anti-traditional of all non-denominational groups, and often see all official churches as having fallen away to some degree or another. They tend to be extremely egalitarian, at least in principle (and at least among males–the role of women varies). Many house churches are charismatic, but many others are not.

This is a very broad portrayal of three kinds of non-denominational churches I’ve observed. A lot more could be said, and most o fmy generalizations could be challenged. But hopefully this gives some food for thought.

In Christ,

Edwin


#9

[quote=La Chiara]So, mango, do you attend church regularly and know this first hand? If so, are you Catholic or Protestant? I think I am more aware of what happens here because I currently live in a small town. When I lived in a large suburb, it was not as apparent though it seemed that the Protestant mainline churches had a steady but small core of regular attendees at their one Sunday service. In contrast, the Catholic churches were full for most Masses. But maybe you are right, that it is regional.
[/quote]

Yes, I attend church regularly. I am not Roman Catholic, but I don’t consider my self “Protestant” either. Not because I don’t like the term…moreso because I’m not officially affiliated with any denomination. I want to choose carefully. I would, however, consider myself to lean toward Protestant theology and toward Roman Catholic worship.

~mango~


#10

Non-denominational churches are really individual denominations in and of themselves. They are offshoots of offshoots of offshoots and, while they don’t expressly claim the theology of any mainline denomination, the theology espoused by the pastor is necessarily the theology embraced by the church.

In short, each pastor of each non-denominational church is pope of his own flock.

In Christ,
Nancy :slight_smile:


#11

[quote=Catholic4aReasn]Non-denominational churches are really individual denominations in and of themselves. …
In short, each pastor of each non-denominational church is pope of his own flock.

In Christ,
Nancy :slight_smile:
[/quote]

It can get worse than that.

There is a “Gospel Chapel” just down the road from where we live. It has a very evangelical ethos, is well attended, well supported (they just did an extensive and elaborate exterior renovation), is active and well thought of in community work, and they can’t keep a minister!

They have a history of appointing ministers, who teach from the Bible, until he teaches something that some in the congregation do not agree with. A controversy ensues, and invariably the minister leaves. The average tenure is about a year.

I’ve never seen anything quite like that, and it amazes me that this congregation hangs together. They have to be atypical to an extreme. But, effectively, every member of that community is a “pope”, or at least considers himself to be a competent and reliable interpreter of the Bible.

It seems that this self-interpretation is a part of all of these “non-denominational” assemblies, though probably not to this degree.

Blessings,

Gerry


#12

This is the single most repeated misconception that Roman Catholics have about Protestants.

I will repeat…for the last time.

WE DO NOT HAVE POPES. NO MAN IS INFALLIBLE NOR HAS INFALLIBLE TEACHINGS. ALL HAVE SINNED AND FALLED SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD!!!

deep breath in

:smiley: I feel better now!

~mango~


#13

[quote=mango_2003]This is the single most repeated misconception that Roman Catholics have about Protestants.

I will repeat…for the last time.

WE DO NOT HAVE POPES. NO MAN IS INFALLIBLE NOR HAS INFALLIBLE TEACHINGS. ALL HAVE SINNED AND FALLED SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD!!!

deep breath in

:smiley: I feel better now!

~mango~
[/quote]

I share your concerns and frustrations about the misconceptions that Catholics and Protestants have about each other. That being the case, I just want to point out that Catholics are fully aware that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The Church’s teaching on papal infallibility does not suggest that a man is infallible (or sinless!)–it claims that the Church enjoys the direction of the Holy Spirit in matters of faith and morals. The Pope only has infallibility because he occupies a certain position, not because he is infallible as a person. (You can read about this in the Catechism 888-92.)

Not to change the subject of the thread by any means, but I thought this warranted clearing up! God Bless.


#14

[quote=La Chiara]Why does it seem that among non-Catholic Christians, the “in” thing to be is “non-denominational Christian” rather than a mainline Protestant denomination (Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian) or even any kind of identity such as Baptist, or fundamentalist, or evangelical?
[/quote]

If someone isn’t in the Catholic Church, why would it make any difference?


#15

[quote=mango_2003]This is the single most repeated misconception that Roman Catholics have about Protestants.
WE DO NOT HAVE POPES.QUOTE] Actually, it isn’t the pastor, each member thinks they are pope and can infallibly interpret scripture for themselves. They need no guidance.
[/quote]


#16

You don’t understand Protestantism. If you did…you’d understand how wrong what you say is.

Please don’t act like you understand…you don’t. It’s offensive.

~mango~
[/quote]


#17

[quote=mango_2003]You don’t understand Protestantism. If you did…you’d understand how wrong what you say is.

Please don’t act like you understand…you don’t. It’s offensive.

~mango~
[/quote]

Some of us used to be Protestants. That seemed pretty accurate to me. Of course when I was a Protestant I would have argued against it as well.

dream wanderer


#18

[quote=dream wanderer]Some of us used to be Protestants. That seemed pretty accurate to me. Of course when I was a Protestant I would have argued against it as well.

dream wanderer
[/quote]

Please.

No Protestant will (or at least, they shouldn’t) tell you that his or her interpretation of the Bible is infallible.

This is all a stereotypical Roman Catholic view of Protestants.

You don’t hear me going around saying that “Roman Catholics worship Mary!!!”…do you?

~mango~


#19

[quote=mango_2003]You don’t understand Protestantism. If you did…you’d understand how wrong what you say is.

Please don’t act like you understand…you don’t. It’s offensive.

~mango~
[/quote]

One thing I have noticed about a lot of my Protestant friends is that they don’t like to be labeled Protestant.

MrS


#20

[quote=mango_2003]This is the single most repeated misconception that Roman Catholics have about Protestants.

I will repeat…for the last time.

WE DO NOT HAVE POPES. NO MAN IS INFALLIBLE NOR HAS INFALLIBLE TEACHINGS. ALL HAVE SINNED AND FALLED SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD!!!

deep breath in

:smiley: I feel better now!

~mango~
[/quote]

Well, in the sense that Catholics submit to the Pope and the Magisterium for the teachings of the Church, while Protestants view their ministers as the final authority (until he gets fired), it would seem the original statement has validity.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.