How many christian denominations worldwide?

Church

This blog post at a glance …..

Many people quote the statistic that there are more than 30,000 christian denominations. It turns out this is mistaken. There are about 40,000 christian church organisations, three quarters of them independent churches, not denominations, in Africa. The number of denominations is way less, and the number of differences in belief less still.

Please read on to see how I worked all this out.

I was asked recently how many christian denominations there are worldwide. It’s hardly an important question, but some critics of christianity use the number of 30,000 to 40,000 to argue that a true God couldn’t be behind christianity because god would communicate better.

So I thought I’d check it out.

The estimates

Most references I could find end up quoting the same couple of sources:

  • World Christian Encyclopedia (David A. Barrett; Oxford University Press, 1982) apparently estimated almost 21,000 denominations, and the updated World Christian Encyclopedia (Barrett, Kurian, Johnson; Oxford Univ Press, 2nd edition, 2001) estimated at least 33,000. “Denomination” is defined as “an organised christian group within a country”.
  • The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimated 34,000 denominations in 2000, rising to an estimated 43,000 in 2012. These numbers have exploded from 1,600 in the year 1900.

These figures are fairly consistent where they can be compared.

What do these estimates mean?

  • These “denominations” are defined in terms of being separate organisations, not necessarily separate beliefs. This is a critical difference, not commonly noted by critics.
  • The largest component (something like two thirds to three quarters) of these totals are “independent” churches, mostly in Africa. These are not necessarily different in doctrine, but are simply independent organisations.
  • These estimates include national branches of the same denomination (e.g. the Lutheran Church of Germany and the Lutheran Church of Australia) as separate organisations in the count.
  • There are many churches among the independent churches which would have effectively the same teachings, just different locations, different leaders, etc.

It is thus incorrect to say that these figures indicate more than 40,000 different beliefs. It is impossible to tell how many differences in belief there would be, and probably impossible even to define. But it would certainly be far less than the 43,000 figure.

Differences in belief

  • The sources suggest christian denominations can be divided into “6 major ecclesiastico-cultural mega-blocs”: Independents, Protestants, “Marginals”, Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Anglicans.
  • Wikipedia lists about 40 major divisions, each of whom might have some variation in belief.
  • The degree of difference in belief is hard to describe. For example, most of these denominations would have similar beliefs about major christian doctrines such as God, creation, Jesus, salvation, Holy Spirit, forgiveness, etc, and the differences would mostly be on less essential matters. How much these differences matter is subjective.

Conclusions

The denominations measured in these two reports are not indicators of separate belief, and quoting them as such is a mis-statement of the data. Due to the large number of independent churches, it is impossible to know how much christian belief varies beyond that defined by the 40 or so groups listed in Wikipedia.

My personal view is that christians divide and give themselves denominational-type names too easily. Jesus said his followers should be “one”, and many of these separate organisations are the result of serious divisions. It would be better if we emphasised what we have in common more, and worried less about these divisions.

Nevertheless, critics of christianity have work to do before they can realistically define the degree of division.

Photo: MorgueFile

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475 thoughts on “How many christian denominations worldwide?

  1. Doc says:

    You simply need to read the book of Hosea. A text considered long before Jesus is said to be here. Long before.
    It clearly has god stating that besides Him, there is no other savior.
    Now you may as a christian not understand this statement in the manner it was written.
    However in reality, God says it, not I, and God is right, not mankind, so if God says he is the only Savior then he is the only savior.
    Why turn your back on God? Really hard to understand.
    Catholicism as is christianity are just man made religions just like Islam.
    Islam back to @ 670AD I think, and christianity back to @ 325 AD.
    Just odd that normal thinking and known historical facts do not enter into an Islamic or Christian approach to God.

    Like

  2. Scott says:

    Anonymous… you seem to have misunderstood something. Doc does NOT claim to be a Christian. He WAS a believing Catholic, but now he has turned his back on those beliefs. So he does NOT claim to be a Christian NOR a Catholic. Capisce?

    Like

  3. Scott says:

    Anonymous,

    You said: “…why would a Catholic abandon Jesus in the Holy Eucharist?”

    Why does anybody do the things they do or believe the things they believe? Do you have difficulty with people believing and doing things that are contrary to your own beliefs and attitudes? The first steps toward relationship and unity is grace, mercy and understanding (humility goes a long way too…). If you stop beating people over the head with your own beliefs and dogma, and instead accept people where they are in order to develop a relationship, you may gain the privilege of then discussing differing beliefs and points of view. Without developing a relationship, you are just two people sparing trying to make points at the other person’s perceived weaknesses.

    But if you’ve had good success with your current method, then by all means, continue. 🙂

    Like

  4. Doc says:

    I did not know that simple asking of a question(s) would create such a bother.
    Only with christianity could this happen, or with islam.
    Sent you many many RCC quotes back when i got temporarily blocked or had the removed. Did you ever get to see/read them?
    CYa

    Like

  5. unkleE says:

    “Sent you many many RCC quotes back when i got temporarily blocked or had the removed. Did you ever get to see/read them?”

    Hi Doc, I investigated those quotes and found that EVERY ONE OF THEM WAS FAKE OR MISREPRESENTED (not by you but by the source you used). Those quotes should not be used again. Did you not read my post here?

    Like

  6. Scott says:

    Hey Doc… was your last reply (at 8:52am blog time) directed at me (Scott) or Anonymous? Because my last couple were in response to Anonymous, not you. (I started with “Anonymous”…) I was actually kind of, sort of, in a round-a-bout way defending you… a little, but ONLY a little… hehe 😉
    However, what you said:
    “Only with christianity could this happen, or with islam.”
    is not accurate at all. EVERYBODY does this, including you (just look back through this blog…). So you might not want to be so quick in throwing that stone… 🙂

    Like

  7. Anonymous says:

    Even just one denomination opposing the Holy Catholic Church is one too many as Christ established only ONE CHURCH. Facts and Stats on 33,000 denominations, World Church Encyclopedia by Barrett, Kurian, Johnson ( Oxford Univ. Press, 2nd Edition 2001)

    Like

  8. Anonymous says:

    How can one call themselves “Christian” when they either reject Christ in the Holy Eucharist or abandon the Holy Eucharist? The Early Church Fathers believed that Christ is present in the Holy Eucharist Body, Blood , Soul and Divinity. Why do non Catholics reject the Holy Eucharist and doubt the early Church Fathers who were taught by the Apostles? Please explain…

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  9. westofthebluemountains says:

    How many of you good people believe that Jesus will re-appear in your lifetime and clear up the discrepancies you are arguing about ?

    If so, how will you distinguish him from impostors ? Do you expect him to perform some miracle that no one else can do, or will you take him on trust ?

    It seems that only his return will unite the 40,000 denominations, so a lot depends on it.

    Like

  10. Scott says:

    West… My personal belief is that when Jesus returns, it will be VERY obvious to EVERYONE and he will clear up TONS of controversies. Regarding whether or not Jesus will reappear in MY lifetime… I cannot say.

    Like

  11. Doc says:

    You are telling me the RCC encyclopedia is fake.
    You most likely don’t like the authors.

    It’s just you don’t like what is said by the RCC and others and I don’t believe in the RCC as anything other than another man made church anyway, but it’s in their encyclopedia.

    Just give me one example I have sent you that is fake. I can understand that you do not believe what they say, that’s fine, but claiming that something is fake takes facts I’d think?

    Like

  12. Scott says:

    Doc,

    I also couldn’t get the link to work from the e-mail. But I was able to click here in the blog. Have to look it up in the blog at 12/16/16 at 1:03pm. That one worked for me. See if it will work for you.

    Like

  13. unkleE says:

    “Just give me one example I have sent you that is fake.”

    Hi Doc, the post I linked to gives about 8 examples of where the references you gave were actually wrong. (Note I didn’t accuse you of being dishonest. But all your statements are quotes from an article by Tony Bushby, and he has been dishonest.)

    Let me give you one clear example.You say, quoting Bushby: “the Church admits that the Epistles of Paul are forgeries, saying ‘Even the genuine Epistles were greatly interpolated to lend weight to the personal views of their authors’”. The reference for the claim that the church admits this is from the Catholic Encyclopedia, but if you look up the quote in the CE you find that it is talking about some epistles by St Ignatius, not Paul. So Bushby has misrepresented what was said, and you have inadvertently used this false reference.

    You can read how each of the 8 references I checked are similarly wrong or misrepresented in the post – and the link works fine for me. Thanks.

    Like

  14. unkleE says:

    Hi West, you ask the question, I offer some answers. 🙂

    “How many of you good people believe that Jesus will re-appear in your lifetime and clear up the discrepancies you are arguing about ?”
    I doubt it. I believe it will happen one day, but who knows how long? But when here the first time, many of his answers were cryptic and he didn’t seem to aim to satisfy curiosity.

    “If so, how will you distinguish him from impostors ? Do you expect him to perform some miracle that no one else can do, or will you take him on trust ?”
    I don’t there will be any question. We can easily differentiate the sunrise from a firefly, and this will be even easier.

    “It seems that only his return will unite the 40,000 denominations, so a lot depends on it.”
    I don’t think he cares that much about the sort of unity you are talking about, which is really (I think) more like uniformity. God doesn’t seem to be big on uniformity. The sort of unity he cares about is more about behaviour than different belief.

    Like

  15. westofthebluemountains says:

    I don’t there will be any question. We can easily differentiate the sunrise from a firefly, and this will be even easier.

    I’m glad you think it will be that easy, I have my doubts. He has to convince all the disparate denominations remember. Then once it appears he is becoming influential he will be a target for the arms manufacturers and other vested interests . Of course he could just disarm all the weapons in the world and that would prove his power. He could have done that the first time too but it took a long time after him for Rome to fall.

    The bleak reality as I see it is, if he does come back it will be after a devastating nuclear war and he will be leading a few survivors through the desert again.

    Like

  16. Doc says:

    Ever get that link correct then send it forward.
    And using one persons opinion against the opinion of the RCC just doesn’t make much waves.

    I just went to Catholic Online and pulled up the very first statement on the link I sent you that you question and I’m really sorry to tell you but it is there just as it was posted.

    I’m not saying you believe it. I’m just saying the quotes I gave you, starting with number one, is indeed in the RCC encyclopedia.

    Now you may have a problem with the author or the writer of the blog or whatever is not acceptable to you but look at the links I sent as I just did for the very first one and they are there.
    If you can pull up a RCC encyclopedia you will find those statements.

    I sent them all to you once so assume you have them still.

    The weakness in your argument is that you will use any person place or thing to rebuke anything you do not like. I’m just trying to learn. My posts are to make people think and then if they have an opposing view, post something real, something legit that can be traced back like I did with the many quotes with supporting locations.

    Lets not argue just to argue.
    Lets not use one if and or but to disqualify something.
    If it’s not in the RCC then it’s not there. But it was and you said it was not.

    Lets be friends! But lets be totally honest.

    Like

  17. unkleE says:

    Well, if he does come back, it will mean he is more than an ordinary human – which I believe but I think you do not. But let’s run with the hypothetical.

    CS Lewis uses an analogy. he says when the author comes on stage for the curtain call at the end of a play, the play, the imagination, is over, and the real world becomes apparent again. The backdrop ceases to be a castle or a lounge room, and becomes just a backdrop again.

    So, he says, this world is like a play, it seems real for now, but it is not ultimately the real thing. When the author, Jesus, comes back, it will be the end of the play, the scenery will become just scenery again, and the spiritual realities will be very clear. I don’t agree with everything he says (for example, I don’t think this backdrop world will be cast aside, but renewed), but I think there is truth there.

    Next time, there won’t be any mistaking, no resistance, just the reality that God really is, and Jesus is his king.

    You may not believe that, but I hope you can see that if he comes back, it won’t be as you have suggested.

    Like

  18. unkleE says:

    Yes, Doc, let’s be totally honest. I presume you are talking about my last statement about Paul’s letters? Here is the full quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia, under the title “St Ignatius” (I have bolded the important sections):

    “The oldest collection of the writings of St. Ignatius known to have existed was that made use of by the historian Eusebius in the first half of the fourth century, but which unfortunately is no longer extant. It was made up of the seven letters written by Ignatius whilst on his way to Rome; These letters were addressed to the Christians

    of Ephesus (Pros Ephesious);
    of Magnesia (Magnesieusin);
    of Tralles (Trallianois);
    of Rome (Pros Romaious);
    of Philadelphia (Philadelpheusin);
    of Smyrna (Smyrnaiois); and
    to Polycarp (Pros Polykarpon).

    We find these seven mentioned not only by Eusebius (Church History III.36) but also by St. Jerome (De viris illust., c. xvi). Of later collections of Ignatian letters which have been preserved, the oldest is known as the “long recension”. This collection, the author of which is unknown, dates from the latter part of the fourth century. It contains the seven genuine and six spurious letters, but even the genuine epistles were greatly interpolated to lend weight to the personal views of its author. For this reason they are incapable of bearing witness to the original form.”

    So you can see, the quote is indeed copied accurately, but it isn’t about the Biblical writer Paul as Bushby, and you, claimed, it is about St Ignatius. So the statement that “the Church admits that the Epistles of Paul are forgeries” is quite wrong, based on this reference.

    All the eight references of yours and Bushby’s that I examined are similar.

    Like

  19. westofthebluemountains says:

    You may not believe that, but I hope you can see that if he comes back, it won’t be as you have suggested.

    OK, the question I keep asking is, when(if) Jesus comes back , will that be relevant just for Christians or for all mankind ? ie Does he just come to take the Faithful to Heaven or to build a new Kingdom on earth, because that implies he will also need to convert the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists and not to mention the Atheists, or does he intend to destroy these ?

    The Jews have their own Messiah and they don’t believe it’s Jesus, or could a “reincarnated” Jesus serve both as a Christian Messiah and a Jewish Messiah ?

    These questions ,may seem very naive to you but as you are a Bible expert I’m sure you know if the answers are in there.

    Thanks for your patience.

    Like

  20. Doc says:

    Simply read the RCC’s encyclopedia before making lots of generalizations. Please.
    There are several editions.
    Picking a scab causes bleeding not healing. And it seems there are lots of picking going on here instead of simple ask/answer/support your statements.
    There are apparently hundreds of topics and statements from the RCC that would shock you that you have not read.
    I’m not the know it all to end all know it all’s. But I read things before making any type of a statement. Christians are as upset with the Jews as they are with the RCC because it is the biggest and the jews killed their Jesus they claim.
    But I’m telling you that there are indeed factual statements by the RCC, whether or not you accept their statements is not the question at hand.
    They made the statements and many are in conflict to the centuries old teaching of the RCC.
    I don’t see why you care if the RCC makes statements about things such as the Gospels, epistles, and such?
    It’s nothing but a detriment to the RCC so why be against it.
    You are not a catholic so why does it bother you?
    I understand that if this is received as being a weakening of the christian faith based belief system then you’d be annoyed.
    That’s not my goal.
    My goal is to ask questions and hope to get factual responses that are much older than most comments that are made. It seems christians know that there are no ancient texts supporting christianity back before the first bible was assembled which was to everyone’s dismay @ 325 or so AD. This is not disputable. A few of the 325 AD bibles (50 of which were stated to have been written) are said by the RCC to be in the RCC’s archives. Not for public eyes.
    The next known bible is the codex sinaiticus which was written @ 330 to 650.
    Here we have indisputable facts from science/history/archeology/etc that state clearly that the earliest known bibles were in fact written at or @ the time of the first ecumenical counsel or as late as 650 AD. Why fight it? It’s fact. This is the earliest possible time the christian church belief system could have ever been anything other than tens of thousands of branches of who knows how many belief systems all teaching something different. That’s okay too. Just admit it because it is fact.
    CYa
    love ya all like family
    just be fair/honest/speak the truth
    personal agendas are not welcome in politics and religion

    Like

  21. Doc says:

    Your questions are not baseless nor naive.
    These types of questions are just not welcomed on blogs like this.
    These very same questions that you ask actually support the idea many hold that all religions are simply man made.
    God doesn’t like christians any more or less than any other person.
    He just loves those of us who do our best to be good people no matter where we are from or how we were raised.
    No jew, muslim, hindu, agnostic, etc will be cast into hell if they live a good life or as good of a life as they can just because they are not christians.

    The christian belief. “if you don’t believe in Jesus, you cannot be saved” Is bunk.

    Christians do not believe that God has no need for man made religions nor does he have a preference. They believe he only allows christians to be saved.
    Please show me where God makes such a claim, please!
    God states he needs no man made religion as I understand it in the Book of Amos.
    And for the return of Jesus as our savior?
    Well God says in the Book of Hosea that only he is the savior and that there is no savior other than him.
    But christians won’t accept Gods words.
    I’m not being mean here I’m just responding to the vast majority of christians beliefs.

    So how do christians explain that Jesus is savior and God is not?
    They claim they are one in the same. Nowhere outside of the NT is this found.

    Now mind you God never said this, just christians belief says this.
    No other man made religion believes this, just christians.

    Much the same as islam. They have their beliefs that only they hold.

    If anyone is coming back to put an end to this place and take the good to ‘wherever’ hereinafter is, it’ll be God himself. He doesn’t need any help.
    CYa
    Doc

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  22. unkleE says:

    Hi Doc, let’s stick to one thing at a time.

    I have quoted from the Catholic Encyclopedia, showing that the quote you and Tony Bushby used to show that Paul’s letters were forged was actually about St Ignatius.

    Can you please tell us all, yes or no, do you accept that that reference you gave was wrong and doesn’t say what you said?

    Like

  23. unkleE says:

    Hi Doc, you have made a number of other comments which don’t answer this simple question, and which I haven’t approved yet.

    Are you willing to read say whether you now accept that your and Tony’s quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia was not about Paul’s letters/epistles at all? Thanks.

    Like

  24. westofthebluemountains says:

    No jew, muslim, hindu, agnostic, etc will be cast into hell if they live a good life or as good of a life as they can just because they are not christians.

    I must admit that that statement reflects my general opinion. If a God is a loving being then don’t see that he can cast good people aside just because they are ignorant of a particular religion. Everyone are his children after all.

    Eric and I have discussed this before. I don’t want to be accused of trolling this blog, so I may cease commenting now ( I think I said that before too). I still enjoy reading it though and it’s good to see that there is a diversity of opinion which promotes independent thought.

    All the best to you all.

    Like

  25. ignorantianescia says:

    Doc wrote:

    and in fact there is a previous chart, the one from 6000 to 10000 years ago that precedes the paleo chart and is the oldest/original one used by the Hebrews/Jews.

    I’m not going to respond to all that was said between you and Scott/Shoshana because I disagree a fair deal with both/all three, so there’s no point for me in taking sides. But I’m going to clarify this:

    There wasn’t any alphabet 6000 years ago or before that we know of. Proto-Sinaitic (which is the oldest in that nice chart) dates from roughly the mid-second millennium BCE. The middle is the Paleo-Hebrew script which was used a lot until the Exile, and continued to be used in certain limited contexts during the Second Temple period. The “late” one is early square script, while our earliest manuscript traditions are in a script that’s a bit more like the modern one than that one.

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  26. Anonymous says:

    Jesus was reciting Psalm 22 when calling out on the Cross. Jews recited this during dark times and was a prayer used by Jews.

    Jesus…Mary…Joseph

    Like

  27. rayana says:

    dear sir, masih yasu mein apki salamti chahti hoon .my name is rehana i belong to a village of pakistan. i have six children out of which three young daughters.i want to marry my daughters. but i have no resources.my husband is mentaly sick.i live in rented house. from two years i wrote about my situations to NGO,S of pakistan .but no one help me.i visit many institutions but no one listen to me .i am in too much trouble .i belongs to christian community.i request you please help me god kept you in asylum. contact number 03441589850

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  28. Anonymous says:

    I encourage everyone here to try and understand that what was agreed upon at the Council of nicaea in 313 ad and officially put into law in 321 ad starting with Sunday worship is not Christianity but is in fact Catholicism. Christianity is not a man-made religion it is those who follow Christ’s teachings and example Paul was a Christian as was the 12 disciples those who follow Christ are indeed Christian any doctrine that Strays from the teachings of the Bible is a man-made tradition. Throughout the years what many of us know as Christianity is really Catholicism AKA offspring of the prostitute Babylon the Great that sits on many Waters. It is the enemy’s plan to give the teachings of Christ a bad name through names and titles however if you follow the teachings of Christ which can be found in the Bible you are indeed a Christian and there’s nothing wrong with that. Christmas is not from the Bible nor is Sunday worship Nor’easter nor any other Pagan Customs for holidays those things stem from the Roman Catholic Church and all churches who keep these teachings are considered in the eyes of God Babylon. Only Zion will be saved in the last days the one true church according to the prophecies in the Bible Jesus Christ made clear how you can recognize the difference between Zion and all the Babylon churches in the last days through the parable of the weeds and the wheat. The time period representing when the truth was planted into the world is from 27AD-106AD from the time Jesus started his ministry so the death of the last Apostle John who wrote the Book of Revelation the last book of the Bible. If you would like to confirm this fact try and find any evidence of the current practices of today’s churches regardless of denomination in the Church of God before 106AD. Crosses Sunday worship pagan holidays none of it was practiced by the disciples nor the apostles. This is how you can identify the true church from The Falls churches in the last days in other words the wheat from the weeds but Christ warned us they would look very similar and would be separated in the last days. Brothers and sisters these are the last days and the separation has happened. The World Mission Society Church of God although slandered by many people stands on the words of God ONLY through the teachings of the Bible. If you know of this church or anyone in this church do not judge by what you read on the internet but give it a try yourself with just one Bible study and determine for yourself if what they teach Through the Bible is true. God bless you all.

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