The History of Non Denominational Churches


The United States is one of the most religious countries on the planet. By far, Christianity is the most dominant religion throughout the country. More and more Americans are classifying themselves as belonging to non denominational churches. When researchers use the baseline of church attendance from 1972 through 1976 and then compare it to what happened in the 40 years since then, the number of people who are both Protestants and who say they attend non denominational churches has risen by at least 400%. Researchers say this is part of a trend that was started in the 1950s. Part of this can be because of the way many people are raised. According to research done by the Pew Research Center, at least one in every five American adults was raised in a home with more than one religion.

  • Political and social upheaval encouraged the growth on the non denominational church. Political scandals and other events started the growth of non denominational worship services. The latter part of the 20th century was a tumultuous time for a great many reasons. The 1960s saw a number of political scandals and social turmoil and upheaval in the United States. The 1970s ushered in the era of Watergate. These made people start to not trust authority figures and made many turn away from traditional churches and gravitate towards non denominational churches where they could be a part of a church community without pledging fidelity to one denomination or another. There are historians who place this change of attitude further back in the century. They point to the Snopes “Monkey” Trials of 1925 as to the point when the population began looking for non denominational worship options. In that trial, a teacher was charged and tried for teaching evolution. It was illegal to do so in public schools at the time. Historians say this caused a crack in the foundation of trust that people had with religious organizations.
  • People wanted to focus more on the Bible. During the 20th century, a number of ministers and parishioner alike found themselves looking to develop a more thorough understanding of the Bible. Evangelical ministers in particular were feeling constrained by the rules and regulations that were set down by the different Protestant denominations. They felt these rules prevented them from celebrating the spirituality of the Bible itself. These groups began looking to non denominational churches and worship options to get back to the basics of the Bible. They looked to the teachings of Christ and wanted to be free of denominational rules that did more to separate people.
  • The non denominational movement began in the 1800s. While it clearly took off in the 1900s, it was actually started much earlier. The real growth in attendance at non denominational churches was not really noticeable until the 1960s. During that time, the population around the United States grew and as a consequence so did attendance at all churches around the country. It is worth noting that the percentage of parishioners, when compared to the general population, actually decreased during this time.
  • Attendance at non denominational churches exploded from 1990 through 2008. During that period of time, the number of people attending non denominational worship gatherings went from about 200,000 to at least eight million.
  • Megachurches only sped the growth of attendance at non denominational churches. When a church has more than two thousand people attending services, it is considered to be a “megachurch.” These institutions first appeared in the 1950s but they really took off at the end of the 20th century. These are all considered to be non denominational churches and there are currently somewhere between 850 and 1,200 of them located around the country.
  • Television has helped the growth of non denominational churches. Around the country, non denominational worship services are televised. In many instances, people will visit a local church after watching these broadcasts. Joel Osteen is a good example of a minister of a megachurch who has benefitted from the broadcast of his sermons. He is the minister of the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas and broadcasts of his sermons are very popular.

Given the American propensity for attending religious services and its independent nature, it is not hard to see why non denominational churches are so popular.