DENOMINATIONS INTO FAMILIES
Families of Christian denominations in North America:
Today, there are many ways of classifying the over 1,500 Christian faith groups
in North America:
|Into three to eight meta-groups (e.g. Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican
|By "wing" (e.g. conservative, mainline, and liberal),|
|By denomination (From the Amish to The Way)|
|By theological belief system (Calvinism, Arminianism, etc.), and
|By religious family, (Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, etc.)|
This section describes how most Christian denominations can be sorted into 15 families,
according to their historical roots.
We have largely patterned the following list of Christian families of
denominations after the work of J Gordon Melton, the editor of the Encyclopedia of American
Religions. 1 It is one of many possible ways of sorting individual denominations.
many possible lists of families of Christian denominations
||Adventist groups, Jehovah's
Witnesses, and British Israelism
||Southern Baptists, American Baptists, etc.
|Christian Science-Metaphysical Family
||Christian Science, New Thought
||The Jesus People, Twin Oaks, etc.
|Eastern Orthodox Family
||Various Orthodox churches -- Russian, Greek, Serbian, etc.
|European Free-Church Family
||Amish, Brethren, Mennonites, Quakers,
||Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of the Nazarene, etc.
|Independent Fundamentalist Family
||Plymouth Brethren, Fundamentalists, etc.
|Latter-day Saints Family a.k.a.
||Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, The community of Christ
||Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Lutheran church - Missouri Synod,
||Jews For Jesus, and other similar groups
||Assemblies of God, Church of God (Cleveland, TN)
||Scandinavian Pietism, United Methodist Church, other Methodists
||Reformed, various Presbyterian churches, Congregational, United Church of Christ
|Western Liturgical Family
Communion; Roman Catholicism, including the Latin
Church and the Eastern Rite Churches: (Armenian 5 Catholic Church, Chaldean
C.C., Coptic C.C., Marionite C.C., Melkite C.C., Syrian C.C.); Old Catholicism;
and the Ukranian Catholic Church
To which might be added a number of additional faith groups and secular
systems, some of which
have only a loose connection to Christianity -- if at all.
||Unitarian Universalists, Humanists,
Evolutionary Christianity, Ethical Culture, Free Thinkers, Secularists, etc.
|Spiritualist, Psychic & New Age Family
||Swedenborgianism, Spiritualism, New Age
How the Christian "families" evolved:
With the exception of the first few years after the execution of their
founder Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ), Christianity was never a unified
|By the end of the 1st century CE three main movements remained:
|Pauline Christians: a group of mainline congregations, largely of
non-Jewish Christians. Some had been created by Paul and his co-workers.
They evolved to become the established church.|
|Gnostic Christians: They claimed
salvation through special, otherwise secret gnosis (knowledge). Some were members
of mainline congregations; others were part of Gnostic groups. They were
declared heretics and were gradually suppressed and exterminated.|
|Jewish Christians: remnants of the group originally headed by James,
the brother of Yeshua,
and including Jesus' disciples. They were scattered throughout the Roman Empire after
the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and gradually disappeared.|
|Circa 400 CE: The Bishop of Rome began to be recognized as the most senior
of all bishops. Siricius (384-399 CE) became the first bishop to be called
|1054 CE: A lengthy power struggle between eastern and western Christianity culminated in a schism
between the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Western Rite (later
called the Roman Catholic Church). Many Christian sects broke away from the
Western Rite throughout the Middle Ages (Cathars, Knights Templars, etc.). These
were generally exterminated by the central church in various genocidal wars.
|1517 CE: Martin Luther attacked certain practices and beliefs
of the Church, and the authority of the Pope. He was followed by other
reformers which produced a mass movement -- the Protestant Reformation. They were
driven largely by two fundamental principles:
|"Sola Scriptura" (Scripture Alone): The belief that the Holy Bible was
the ultimate authority for all matters of religious belief and practice.|
|The Priesthood of all Believers: The belief that no priest or
other intermediary is needed between the Christian believer and God.
|1820: Joseph Smith, at the age of 14, received his first vision.
He reported that God and Jesus Christ
had appeared before him as separate entities and told him that all of the
Christian sects and denominations were in error and that he should not join
any of them. He founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
in 1830. It attracted 1,000 members during its first 12 months and has since
grown rapidly. About 13 million believers who are members of almost a
hundred faith groups trace their church's history back to the church that
|Into modern times: Protestant Christianity became fractured into over
1,500 individual denominations, as individuals and groups
began to interpret the Bible in their own unique ways. They continually formed new
sects that they felt were closer to Jesus' intentions for the church. In the
past fifteen decades in North America schisms occurred over the legitimacy of
human slavery, and whether to allow women to be ordained. A number of mainline
denominations -- Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal -- are attempting to keep
their organizations intact in spite of differences of
belief about sexual orientation. They are debating whether to grant equal
rights to gays and lesbians, and whether to recognize same-sex relationships.|
Size of religious groups in the U.S.
Polling data from early 2001 indicate that:
|76.5% (159 million) of Americans identify themselves as
Christian. This is a major slide from 86.2% in
1990. Identification with Christianity has suffered a loss of 9.7
percentage points in 11 years -- about 0.9 percentage points per year.
|52% of Americans identified themselves as Protestant.|
|24.5% are Roman Catholic.|
|14.1% do not follow any organized religion. This is an unusually rapid
increase from only 8% in 1990.|
|1.3% are Jewish.|
|0.5% are Muslim, followers of Islam.|
|The fastest growing religion (in terms of percentage) is
Wicca. It went from 8,000 in 1990 to 134,000 in
2001. Their numbers of adherents are doubling about every 30 months.
The percentage of Americans who are Protestants are
expected to dip below 50% at sometime before the end of 2006.
Size of religious groups in Canada:
The 2001 census by Statistics Canada found that:
|77% of the population define themselves as Christian. This is also a major
slide from 83% in 1991 -- over a half percentage point per year.
|44% of Canadians are Roman Catholic.|
|29% are Protestant|
|1.6 are Orthodox Christian|
|2.6 are identify themselves as from other Christian groups|
|17.4% have no religious affiliation|
|2.0% are Muslim.|
|1.1% are Jewish|
|1.0 are Buddhist|
|1.0% are Hindu|
|0.9 are Sikh|
|0.1 follow other Eastern religions|
|0.2 follow other religions. 6|
Although the percentage of adults who consider themselves Christian are almost the same
in Canada and the U.S., the two countries differ in two significant ways:
|A much larger percentage of Canadians are Roman Catholic.|
|A much larger percentage of Americans Protestants are conservatives.
In general, the more conservative churches are rapidly growing in membership; the main
line and liberal churches are in a gradual decline. The Unitarian-Universalist
Association is an exception. It is a very liberal religious organization which is
often considered to be part of Christendom by statisticians and pollsters, but not
regarded as Christian by most of its members. It is growing.
Christianity throughout the world
According to the 1992 Encyclopaedia Britannica Book of the Year, Christianity is
the most widespread religion in the world. They have established "significant"
communities 254 countries and territories. This leads the Baha'i faith at 205 locations
and Islam at 172.
The percentage of the world's population that regards themselves as Christians appears
to be remarkably constant. It has risen only from 33.7% in 1970 to 33.9% in 1996. Its
current annual growth rate is about 2.3% which is approximately equal to the growth rate
of the world's population. 3
Within Christianity, not all denominations had the same growth rate:
||Annual growth rate in total membership
||Annual Growth Rate
(compensated for growth of the world's population)
|Roman Catholics and Others
By 2003, a smaller percentage of the world's population identified themselves
as Christians, The 2003 New York Times Almanac reported that Christianity had
almost two billion adherents in 260 countries.
7 They reported the total world's population at 6.2 billion.
8 This implies a drop in the
percentage of Christians among the world's population to almost 32%.
Related essays on this web site:
- J. Gordon Melton, Ed, "The Encyclopedia of American Religions: A Comprehensive
Study of the Major Religious Groups in the United States and Canada," 3 volume
set, Triumph Books, New York, NY, (1989)
- "American Religious Identification Survey," by
Graduate Center of the City University of New York, at:
- Greg H. Parsons, Executive Director, "U.S. Center for World Mission,"
Pasadena, CA; quoted in Zondervan News Service, 1997-FEB-21.
- Rev. George Mastrantonis, "The fundamental teachings of the
Eastern Orthodox Church," at: http://www.goarch.org/
- The Armenian Catholic Church is unrelated to the
Arminian movement which is a theological belief system opposed to
- Statistics Canada, "Population by religion, by provinces and territories (2001 census),"2005-JAN-25, at:
http://www40.statcan.ca/ Adapted from the Statistics Canada's Internet Site,
on 2005-AUG-22. Full URL is:
- "2003 New York Times Almanac," Page 485.
- Ibid, Page 470
Copyright © 1999 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2006-NOV-06
Author: B.A. Robinson