You’ve probably heard about non-denominational churches lately. Maybe you have friends who attend one, or you’ve seen an advertisement for a new one popping up in your area. Non-denominational churches seem to be growing rapidly these days. But are they a good idea, or something Christians should avoid? In this post, we’ll examine some of the potential pros and cons of non-denominational churches and help you decide if they are right or not for you.
Let’s start with a quick definition. Non-denominational churches are congregations that do not align themselves with any particular Christian denomination. Unlike Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or other denominational churches, non-denominational churches simply refer to themselves as “Christian” churches.
The rise of non-denominational churches began in the late 20th century and has accelerated rapidly in recent decades. According to the National Congregations study, non-denominational church membership in the United States grew from 200,000 in 1990 to 8,000,000 in 2000 – a massive increase. By 2010, almost 1 in 10 Protestant churchgoers attended a non-denominational church.
So what’s behind this dramatic shift? There are likely several factors at play:
- Non-denominational churches have seen huge growth in recent decades. Nearly 1 in 10 Protestant Christians now attend one.
- They aim to avoid divisions and focus on core Christian beliefs. However, some feel they lack depth and accountability.
- If considering a non-denominational church, examine their doctrine, leadership structure, and community outreach carefully.
- No church model is perfect. Focus on finding a healthy biblical community, rather than a particular denomination or style.
The Potential Benefits of Non-Denominational Churches
With this background in mind, let’s examine some of the potential benefits of non-denominational churches. What are some of the positive features that attract people to these congregations?
1. Focus on Christian Essentials
One of the main aims of non-denominational churches is to downplay denominational divisions and focus simply on the core truths of the Christian faith. Because they are not aligned with a larger denomination, non-denominational churches are free to avoid potentially controversial or distracting denominational requirements. Instead, they emphasize the big ideas like the deity of Christ, the authority of Scripture, salvation by grace, and the call to share the gospel.
In Ephesians 4:4-6, Paul urges Christians to be “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” since there is “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all.” Non-denominational churches aim to live out this spirit of Christian unity around essential doctrines.
2. Flexibility in Approach
Since they are not bound to a denomination’s rules, non-denominational churches often have great flexibility in how they do church. This allows them to use innovative and creative approaches to worship, preaching, small groups, and outreach. For instance, they may utilize contemporary music, less formal services, creative stage productions, video clips, and other modern elements.
For some people, this flexible, informal, and contemporary style is more relatable than what they experienced in more traditional denominational churches. And it often appeals to younger generations in particular. Of course, not all non-denominational churches are modern in their approach. Many maintain quite traditional worship services. But the autonomy gives them latitude to adjust as needed to best reach their community.
3. Lack of District or National Obligations
In denominational churches, local congregations often have commitments beyond their own church. There may be financial obligations, leadership requirements, or doctrinal standards that must be followed to remain in good standing with the regional or national denomination.
Non-denominational churches avoid these external controls and commitments. Finances stay local. Leadership is handled internally or networked through informal relationships with other non-denominational churches. And doctrine is determined at the local level.
For some, escaping the bureaucratic denominational machinery feels liberating. It allows more flexibility, creativity, and control for the local body.
4. Focus on Evangelism and Outreach
Since non-denominational churches focus on the core message of Christianity and have flexibility in methods, many seem to have a strong emphasis on evangelism and community outreach. They adapt their worship and small group studies to be accessible to non-Christians exploring the faith. And they design creative outreach events oriented around service, family fun, or holiday celebrations designed to bring people in from the community.
Of course, evangelism is important in many denominational churches as well. But some appreciate that non-denominational congregations are free to pursue this imperative without any extra bureaucratic responsibilities getting in the way. For those with a passion for reaching the lost, this pure focus on sharing the gospel is appealing.
Potential Concerns About Non-Denominational Churches
In balance, non-denominational churches can have drawbacks as well. What are some potential issues or weaknesses to be aware of?
1. Lack of Accountability and Oversight
Since non-denominational churches are autonomous, they lack formal accountability structures. There is no district office, bishop, presbytery or convention to provide oversight. This means problems can potentially go unchecked or mishandled.
If the pastor begins teaching false doctrine, there are no denominational safeguards to remove him. If finances are mismanaged, there is no higher organization to investigate and intervene. These scenarios are hopefully rare, but they are a risk worth considering.
Some non-denominational networks or associations have been developed to help provide a degree of accountability. But these are optional peer relationships, not authoritative oversight.
2. Potential for Unbalanced Teaching
While focusing on Christian essentials sounds good, if taken too far it can lead to an unbalanced perspective. A church community needs the whole counsel of God’s Word and a depth of Bible teaching across many topics to be spiritually mature (Acts 20:27).
But a non-denominational church dependent on a single pastor’s sermons may unintentionally overemphasize certain doctrines and neglect others. Without a denominational confession, doctrinal statement, or requirement for systematic Bible study, imbalances can develop more easily over time.
3. Lack of Depth and Heritage
Related to this, some feel that non-denominational churches lack the depth, history, theological rigor, and spiritual heritage found in denominational churches. For instance, Presbyterians can look to centuries of church tradition, the Westminster Confession, and generations of theologians like Calvin, Edwards, and Lewis. Similar examples could be pointed out for Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, etc.
By separating from this heritage and avoiding doctrinal statements, some feel non-denominational churches create a shallow spirituality – one that lacks roots. The counterargument is that truth transcends history, and a commitment to Scripture should unite all believers, past and present. Nonetheless, it’s a concern to weigh.
4. Tendency Toward Trendiness
Since non-denominational churches emphasize flexibility and relevance, some fall into the trap of being overly trendy. In trying to stay up-to-date, they can end up chasing fads or allowing culture to influence their theology and practice in detrimental ways.
For example, some non-denominational church leaders seem quick to hop on the latest self-help craze rather than preach the timeless Word. Others have diluted biblical morality to better conform to societal norms. And many have adopted entertainment and emotionalism over sober-minded worship. Of course, denominational churches struggle with these errors too at times. But some argue the autonomy of non-denominational churches makes them more susceptible.
Questions to Ask about a Non-Denominational Church
Rather than blankly categorizing all non-denominational churches as either good or bad, it’s wiser to evaluate each congregation individually. Here are some key questions to consider if you are visiting or curious about a particular non-denominational church:
- Do they have a doctrinal statement or confession of faith that outlines their core beliefs? If so, does it align with historical biblical Christianity?
- Who provides spiritual leadership and oversight? Is there pastoral accountability in place? What training and development do leaders receive?
- How do they carry out church discipline when necessary? Is there a biblically-wise system in place?
- Does the church offer a variety of Bible-based classes and resources for spiritual growth? How well does the sermon schedule cover a breadth of biblical topics over time?
- Is the preaching exegetical (explaining the meaning of biblical texts) or chiefly topical/thematic? Do sermons refer to expositional commentaries and other resources?
- What are the backgrounds of the pastor and other key leaders? Were they developed and vetted within a denomination or network prior to their current role?
- Does the church have any extra-biblical requirements for membership or leadership? Is their model of governance biblical or simply pragmatic?
- How is the church involved in the local community? What outreach efforts do they undertake?
- Are there aspects of the worship or teaching that seem driven by popular trends rather than Scripture and wisdom?
Asking these sorts of questions can help you discern if a particular non-denominational church is solid theologically and organizationally, or if there are potential problems to be aware of.
Conclusion: Focus on Finding a Healthy Biblical Community
When it comes down to it, no church model is perfect. Every style and denomination has strengths and weaknesses – because they all depend on imperfect people! There are unhealthy non-denominational churches, just as there are unhealthy denominational churches.
The most important thing is not the denomination or style, but whether the church strives to be rooted in Scripture, centered on gospel truth, governed in a biblical manner, and focused on reaching the lost. A church that preaches and practices God’s Word with humility, love and grace is worth being a part of, regardless of denominational affiliation.
Rather than getting distracted by stylistic preferences, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in finding a congregation where you can grow spiritually, use your gifts to serve others, and take steps forward in your walk with Christ. The body of Christ could use less division over secondary issues, and more unified action to exalt Jesus and reach the world.
May the Lord give wisdom and discernment as you consider where to worship and serve. Blessings!