Figuring out Denominations

The Church of Jesus Christ is one church, but it lives in many different branches. Through history and across the world the church has broken into sections that do not always recognize one another. There are well over one thousand different Christian denominations. Some have official links with other denominations and some consider themselves the only true Church. There are several ways to organize and understand the branches of the Church.

Denominational Families

One way of understanding the large number of denominations is to break them into their families according to the theology or practices they share. Several denominations do not fit in a category with any other denomination. This list does not include all possible families. In alphabetical order here are the main denominational families with a few representative denominations that can be found in the United States and Canada.

Adventist Family

Jehovah's Witnesses
Seventh-Day Adventists

Anglican Family

Anglican Church
Church of England
The Episcopal Church

Baptist Family

American Baptists
National Baptists
Progressive Baptists
Southern Baptists

Eastern Orthodox Family

Greek Orthodox
Russian Orthodox
Orthodox Church in America
Serbian Orthodox

Free-Church Family

Amish
Brethren
Mennonites
Quakers

Holiness Family

Christian and Missionary Alliance
Church of the Nazarene

Lutheran Family

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
Norwegian Lutheran

Methodist Family

African Methodist Episcopal (AME)
(AME) Zion Church
Free Methodists
United Methodist Church

Oriental Orthodox Family
(Miaphysites)

Coptic Orthodox Church
Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Eritrean Orthodox Church
Syriac Orthodox Church

Pentecostal Family

Assemblies of God
Church of God
Church of God in Christ

Reformed Family

Christian Reformed Church
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Reformed Church in America
United Church of Christ

Roman Catholic Family

Latin Rite Churches
Eastern Rite Churches

Historical Divisions

Another way to organize the denominations is to organize them by the divisions that separated them. It should be noted that several divisions have come and been healed in the history of the church. We are only looking at those that are reflected in the denominational structure today in the United States.

The Primitive Church

Western

Eastern

Lutheran Reformed Baptist Anglican Free
Churches
Roman
Catholic
National
Churches
Anglican Methodist
Black White Black White

Forms of Government

Historically there are three different ways that churches have chosen to organize themselves. Listed below is the form and representative denominations that follow the forms. (Some follow the forms rather flexibly.)

Rule by Bishops

Decisions are made by bishops and/or
councils of bishops.

Anglican Churches
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Roman Catholic Churches
Lutheran Churches
Methodist Churches

Rule by Elders

Decisions are made by representative lay
members of a congregation and lay and clergy
representatives of churches within a region.

Christian Reformed Church
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Reformed Church in America

Rule by All the Members

Decisions are made by a vote of the members
of a congregation.

Baptist Churches
Congregational Churches
Free Churches

For Further Study

Presbyterian 101
Journal of Ecumenical Studies "Ecclesiastical Identity and Ecumenical Decisions"
Hartford Institute for Religion Research