A Christian denomination is a distinct religious body within Christianity, identified by traits such as a name, organization and doctrine. Individual bodies, however, may use alternative terms to describe themselves, such as church, convention, communion, assembly, house, union, network, or sometimes fellowship. Divisions between one denomination and another are primarily defined by authority and doctrine. Issues regarding the nature of Jesus, Trinitarianism, salvation, the authority of apostolic succession, eschatology, conciliarity, and papal primacy among others may separate one denomination from another. Groups of denominations, often sharing broadly similar beliefs, practices, and historical ties--can be known as "branches of Christianity" or "denominational families" (e.g. Eastern or Western Christianity and their sub-branches). These "denominational families" are often imprecisely also called denominations.
Christian denominations since the 20th century have often involved themselves in ecumenism. Ecumenism refers to efforts among Christian bodies to develop better understandings and closer relationships. It also refers to efforts toward visible unity in the Christian Church, though the terms of visible unity vary for each denomination of Christianity; the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church each teach visible unity may only be achieved by converting to their denominational beliefs and structure, citing claims of being the one true church. The largest ecumenical organization in Christianity is the World Council of Churches.
The following is not a complete list, but aims to provide a comprehensible overview of the diversity among denominations of Christianity, ecumenical organizations, and Christian ideologies not necessarily represented by specific denominations. Only those Christian denominations, ideologies and organizations with Wikipedia articles will be listed in order to ensure that all entries on this list are notable and verifiable. The denominations and ecumenical organizations listed are generally ordered from ancient to contemporary Christianity.
Some bodies included on this list do not consider themselves denominations. For example, the Catholic Church considers itself the one true church and the Holy See as pre-denominational. The Eastern Orthodox Church also considers itself the original Christian Church and pre-denominational. To express further the complexity involved, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches were historically one and the same, as evidenced by the fact that they are the only two modern churches in existence to accept all of the first seven ecumenical councils, until differences arose, such as papal authority and dominance, the rise of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the continuance of emperors in the Eastern Roman Empire, and the final and permanent split that occurred during the Crusades with the siege of Constantinople. This also illustrates that denominations can arise not only from religious or theological issues, but political and generational divisions as well.
Other churches that are viewed by non-adherents as denominational are highly decentralized and do not have any formal denominational structure, authority, or record-keeping beyond the local congregation; several groups within the Restoration movement and congregational churches fall into this category.
Some Christian bodies are large (e.g. Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans or Baptists), while others are just a few small churches, and in most cases the relative size is not evident in this list except for the denominational group or movement as a whole (e.g. Church of the East, Oriental Orthodox Churches, or Lutheranism). The largest denomination is the Catholic Church with more than 1.3 billion members. The smallest of these groups may have only a few dozen adherents or an unspecified number of participants in independent churches as described below. As such, specific numbers and a certain size may not define a group as a denomination. However, as a general rule, the larger a group becomes, the more acceptance and legitimacy it gains.
Modern movements such as Christian fundamentalism, Pietism, Evangelicalism, the Holiness movement and Pentecostalism sometimes cross denominational lines, or in some cases create new denominations out of two or more continuing groups (as is the case for many united and uniting churches, for example; e.g. the United Church of Christ). Such subtleties and complexities are not clearly depicted here.
Between denominations, theologians, and comparative religionists there are considerable disagreements about which groups can be properly called Christian or a Christian denomination as disagreements arise primarily from doctrinal differences between each other. As an example, this list contains groups also known as "rites" which many, such as the Roman Catholic Church, would say are not denominations as they are in full papal communion, and thus part of the Catholic Church. For the purpose of simplicity, this list is intended to reflect the self-understanding of each denomination. Explanations of different opinions concerning their status as Christian denominations can be found at their respective articles.
There is no official recognition in most parts of the world for religious bodies, and there is no official clearinghouse which could determine the status or respectability of religious bodies. Often there is considerable disagreement between various groups about whether others should be labeled with pejorative terms such as "cult", or about whether this or that group enjoys some measure of respectability. Such considerations often vary from place to place, or culture to culture, where one denomination may enjoy majority status in one region, but be widely regarded as a "dangerous cult" in another part of the world. Inclusion on this list does not indicate any judgment about the size, importance, or character of a group or its members.
Early Christianity is often divided into three different branches that differ in theology and traditions, which all appeared in the 1st century AD/CE. They include Jewish Christianity, Pauline Christianity and Gnostic Christianity. All modern Christian denominations are said to have descended from the Jewish and Pauline Christianities, with Gnostic Christianity dying, or being hunted out of existence after the early Christian era and being largely forgotten until discoveries made in the late 19th and early twentieth centuries. There are also other theories on the origin of Christianity.
The following Christian groups appeared between the beginning of the Christian religion and the First Council of Nicaea in 325.
Unlike the previously mentioned groups, the following are all considered to be related to Christian Gnosticism.
The Church of the East split from the Roman-recognized state church of Rome during the Sasanian Period. It is also called the Nestorian Church or the Church of Persia. Declaring itself separate from the state church in 424-427, liturgically, it adhered to the East Syriac Rite. Theologically, it adopted the dyophysite doctrine of Nestorianism, which emphasizes the separateness of the divine and human natures of Jesus, and addresses Mary as Christotokos instead of Theotokos; the Church of the East also largely practiced aniconism. The Church of the East by the 15th century was largely confined to the Eastern Aramaic-speaking Assyrian communities of northern Mesopotamia, in and around the rough triangle formed by Mosul and Lakes Van and Urmia--the same general region where the Church of the East had first emerged between the 1st and 3rd centuries.
Its patriarchal lines divided in a tumultuous period from the 16th-19th century, finally consolidated into the Eastern Catholic Chaldean Church (in full communion with the Pope of Rome), and the Assyrian Church of the East. Other minor, modern related splinter groups include the Ancient Church of the East (split 1968 due of rejecting some changes made by Patriarch Shimun XXI Eshai) and the Chaldean Syrian Church. In 1995 the Chaldean Syrian Church reunified with the Assyrian Church of the East as an archbishopric. The Chaldean Syrian Church is headquartered in Thrissur, India. Together, the Assyrian, Ancient, Chaldean Syrian and Chaldean Catholic Church comprised over 1.6 million in 2018.
Assyrian Christianity comprises those Eastern churches who kept the traditional Nestorian christology and ecclesiology of the historical Church of the East after the original church reunited with the Catholic Church in Rome, forming the Chaldean Catholic Church in 1552. Assyrian Christianity forms part of the Syriac Christian tradition. The Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East together had over 0.6 million members as of 2018 .
The Oriental Orthodox Churches are the Christian churches adhering to Miaphysite christology and theology, with a combined global membership of 62 million as of 2019 . These churches reject the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and those after it. They departed from the state church of the Roman Empire after the Chalcedonian Council. Other denominations, such as the Eastern Orthodox Church and bodies in Old and True Orthodoxy, often label the Oriental Orthodox Churches as "Monophysite"; as the Oriental Orthodox do not adhere to the teachings of Eutyches, they themselves reject this label, preferring the term "Miaphysite". Historically, the Oriental Orthodox Churches considered themselves collectively to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Jesus founded. Some Christian denominations have recently considered the body of Oriental Orthodoxy to be a part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, a view which is gaining increasing acceptance in the wake of ecumenical dialogues between groups such as Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman and Eastern Catholicism, and Protestant Christianity. Most member churches of the Oriental Orthodox Churches are part of the World Council of Churches.
The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, claims continuity (based upon apostolic succession) with the early Church as part of the state church of Rome. Though it considers itself pre-denominational, being the original Church of Christ before 1054, some scholars suggest the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches began after the East-West Schism. The Eastern Orthodox Church had about 230 million members as of 2019 , making it the second largest single denomination behind the Catholic Church. Some of them have a disputed administrative status (i.e. their autonomy or autocephaly is not recognized universally). Eastern Orthodox churches by and large remain in communion with one another, although this has broken at times throughout its history. Two examples of impaired communion between the Orthodox churches include the Moscow-Constantinople schisms of 1996 and 2018.
The Catholic Church, or Roman Catholic Church, is composed of 24 autonomous sui iuris particular churches: the Latin Church and the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches. It considers itself the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded, and which Saint Peter initiated along with the missionary work of Saint Paul and others. As such, the Catholic Church does not consider itself a denomination, but rather considers itself pre-denominational, the original Church of Christ. Continuity is claimed based upon apostolic succession with the early Church. The Catholic population exceeds 1.3 billion as of 2016 .
The Latin (or Western) Church is the largest and most widely known of the 24 sui iuris churches that together make up the Catholic Church (not to be confused with the Roman Rite, which is one of the Latin liturgical rites, not a particular church). It is headed by the Bishop of Rome--the Pope, traditionally called the Patriarch of the West--with headquarters in Vatican City, enclaved within Rome, Italy. As of 2015 , the Latin Church comprised 1.255 billion members.
All of the following are particular churches of the Catholic Church. They are all in communion with the Pope as Bishop of Rome and acknowledge his claim of universal jurisdiction and authority. They have some minor distinct theological emphases and expressions (for instance, in the case of those that are of Greek/Byzantine tradition, concerning some non-doctrinal aspects of the Latin view of Purgatory and clerical celibacy). The Eastern Catholic Churches and the Latin Church (which are united in the worldwide Catholic Church) share the same doctrine and sacraments, and thus the same faith. The total membership of the churches accounted for approximately 18 million members as of 2019 .
Protestantism is a movement within Christianity which owes its name to the 1529 Protestation at Speyer, but originated in 1517 when Martin Luther began his dispute with the Roman Catholic Church. This period of time, known as the Reformation, began a series of events resulting over the next 500 years in several newly denominated churches (listed below). Some denominations were started by intentionally dividing themselves from the Roman Catholic Church, such as in the case of the English Reformation while others, such as with Luther's followers, were excommunicated after attempting reform. New denominations and organizations formed through further divisions within Protestant churches since the Reformation began. A denomination labeled "Protestant" subscribes to the fundamental Protestant principles--though not always--that is scripture alone, justification by faith alone, and the universal priesthood of believers.
The majority of contemporary Protestants are members of Adventism, Anglicanism, the Baptist churches, Calvinism (Reformed Protestantism), Lutheranism, Methodism and Pentecostalism. Nondenominational, Evangelical, charismatic, neo-charismatic, independent, Convergence, and other churches are on the rise, and constitute a significant part of Protestant Christianity.
This list gives only an overview, and certainly does not mention all of the Protestant denominations. The exact number of Protestant denominations, including the members of the denominations, is difficult to calculate and depends on definition. A group that fits the generally accepted definition of "Protestant" might not officially use the term. Therefore, it should be taken with caution. The most accepted figure among various authors and scholars includes around 900 million to a little over 1 billion Protestant Christians.
Proto-Protestantism, or the Reformation prior to Luther refers to movements similar to the Protestant Reformation, but before 1517, when Martin Luther (1483-1546) is reputed to have nailed the Ninety-Five-Theses to the church door. Major early Reformers were Peter Waldo (c. 1140-c. 1205), John Wycliffe (1320s-1384), and Jan Hus (c. 1369-1415). It is not completely correct to call these groups Protestant due to the fact that some of them had nothing to do with the 1529 Protestation at Speyer which coined the term Protestant. In particular, the Utraquists were eventually accommodated as a separate Catholic rite by the papacy after a military attempt to end their movement failed. On the other hand, the surviving Waldensians ended up joining Reformed Protestantism, so it is not completely inaccurate to refer to their movement as Protestant.
Lutherans are a major branch of Protestantism, identifying with the theology of Martin Luther, a German friar, ecclesiastical reformer, and theologian. Lutheranism initially began as an attempt to reform the Catholic Church before the excommunication of its members. Today with most Protestants, Lutherans are divided among mainline and evangelical theological lines. The whole of Lutheranism had about 70-90 million members in 2018. The largest non-United Lutheran denomination was the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, a Eastern Protestant Christian group.
Pietism was an influential movement in Lutheranism that combined its emphasis on Biblical doctrine with the Reformed emphasis on individual piety and living a vigorous Christian life. Pietists who separated from established Lutheran churches to form their own denominations are known as Radical Pietists. Although a movement in Lutheranism, influence on Anglicanism, in particular John Wesley, led to the spawning of the Methodist movement.
Calvinism, also known as the Reformed tradition or Reformed Protestantism is a movement which broke from the Catholic Church in the 16th century. Calvinism follows the theological traditions set down by John Calvin, John Knox and other Reformation-era theologians. Calvinists differ from Lutherans on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, theories of worship, and the use of God's law for believers, among other things. There are from 60 to 80 million Christians identifying as Reformed or Calvinist according to statistics gathered in 2018.
Anglicanism or Episcopalianism has referred to itself as the via media between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The majority of Anglicans consider themselves part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church within the Anglican Communion. Anglicans or Episcopalians also self-identify as both Catholic and Reformed. Although the use of the term "Protestant" to refer to Anglicans was once common, it is controversial today, with some rejecting the label and others accepting it. In Protestantism, Anglicans numbered over 85 million in 2018.
There are numerous churches following the Anglican tradition that are not in full communion with the Anglican Communion. Some churches split due to changes in the Book of Common Prayer and the ordination of women, forming Anglo-Catholic or Evangelical Anglican communities. A select few of these churches are recognized by certain individual provinces of the Anglican Communion.
The Anabaptists trace their origins to the Radical Reformation. Alternative to other early Protestants, Anabaptists were seen as an early offshoot of Protestantism, although the view has been challenged by some Anabaptists. There were approximately 2.1 million Anabaptists as of 2015.
Baptists emerged as the English Puritans were influenced by the Anabaptists, and along with Methodism, grew in size and influence after they sailed to the New World (the remaining Puritans who traveled to the New World were Congregationalists). Some Baptists fit strongly with the Reformed tradition theologically but not denominationally. Some Baptists also adopt presbyterian and episcopal forms of governance. In 2018, there were about 75-105 million Baptists.
The Methodist movement emerged out the influence of Pietism within Anglicanism. Unlike Baptists (also emerging from the Church of England), Methodists have retained liturgical worship and other historic Anglican practices including vestments and (in some Methodist denominations such as the United Methodist Church) the episcopacy. Methodists were some of the first Christians to accept women's ordination since the Montanists. Some 60-80 million Christians are Methodists and members of the World Methodist Council.
The Holiness movement emerged from 19th-century Methodism. As of 2015, churches of the movement had an estimated 12 million adherents.
Adventism was a result from the Restoration movement, which sought to restore Christianity along the lines of what was known about the apostolic early Church which Restorationists saw as the search for a more pure and ancient form of the religion. This idea is also called Christian Primitivism. Following the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, William Miller preached the end of the world and the second coming of Christ in 1843/44. Some followers after the failed prediction became the Adventists or Campbellites, while other splinter groups eventually became Apocalyptic Restorationists. Many of the splinter groups did not subscribe to trinitarian theologies. Well known Restorationist groups related in some way to Millerism include the Jehovah's Witnesses, World Mission Society Church of God, the Restored Church of God, and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. There are a little over 7 million Restorationist Christians.
Pentecostalism and Charismatic Christianity began in the 1900s. The two movements emphasize direct personal experience of God through baptism with the Holy Spirit. They represent some of the largest growing movements in Protestant Christianity. As a result of the two movements, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal was established. According to the Pew Research Center, Pentecostals and Charismatics numbered some 280 million people in 2011.
These united or uniting churches are the result of a merger between distinct denominational churches (e.g., Lutherans and Calvinists). As ecumenism progresses, unions between various Protestants are becoming more and more common, resulting in a growing number of united and uniting churches. Major examples of uniting churches are the United Protestant Church of France (2013) and the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (2004). Churches are listed here when their disparate heritage marks them as inappropriately listed in the particular categories above.
The term Evangelical appears with the reformation and reblossoms in the 18th century and in the 19th century. Evangelical Protestantism modernly understood is an inter-denominational Protestant movement which maintains the belief that the essence of the Gospel consists of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ's atonement.
P'ent'ay, simply known as Ethiopian-Eritrean Evangelicalism are a group of indigenous Protestant Eastern Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Mennonite denominations in full communion with each other and believe that Ethiopian and Eritrean Evangelicalism are the reformation of the current Orthodox Tewahedo churches as well as the restoration of it to original Ethiopian Christianity. They uphold that in order for a person to be saved one has to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior for the forgiveness of sins; and to receive Christ one must be "born again" (dagem meweled). Its members make up a significant portion of the 2 million Eastern Protestant tradition.
Asian-initiated churches are those arising from Chinese and Japanese regions that were formed during repression in authoritarian eras as responses from government crackdowns of their old Christian denominations which were deemed illegal or unrecognized in their countries' state atheism or religion.
These are denominations, movements, and organizations deriving from mainstream Protestantism but are not classifiable under historic or current Protestant movements nor as parachurch organizations.
Independent sacramental churches refer to a loose collection of individuals and Christian denominations who are not part of the historic sacramental Christian denominations (such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches) and yet continue to practice the historic sacramental rites independently while utilizing "Old Catholic", "Catholic", or "Autocephalous Orthodox" labels. Many such groups originated from schisms of these larger denominations, and they claim to have preserved the historical episcopate or apostolic succession, though such claims are frequently disputed or rejected outright by the historic churches of Rome, Constantinople, the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht, and Canterbury.
Independent Catholic churches arguably began in 1724. The Independent Catholic churches self-identify as either Western or Eastern Catholic although they are not affiliated with or recognized by the Catholic Church.
These churches consider themselves Eastern or Oriental Orthodox but are not in communion with the main bodies of Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy. Some of these denominations consider themselves as part of True Orthodoxy or the Old Believers as examples, and have walled themselves off from other Christian denominational groups over issues of ecumenism.
True Orthodoxy, or Genuine Orthodoxy, is a movement of Eastern Orthodox churches that separated from the mainstream Eastern Orthodox Church over issues of ecumenism and Calendar reform since the 1920s.
Russian Old Believers form a sub-type of Proto-True Orthodoxy that refused to accept the liturgical and ritual changes made by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow between 1652 and 1666. Several Old Believer denominations have reunified with the Russian Orthodox Church and subsequent wider Eastern Orthodox communion.
Syncretic Orthodox churches blend with other denominations outside of Eastern Orthodoxy and are not in communion with the main body of Eastern nor Oriental Orthodoxies. These bodies may also be considered part of Eastern Protestant Christianity or the Convergence Movement.
The following are independent and non-mainstream movements, denominations and organizations formed during various times in the history of Christianity by splitting from mainline Catholicism, Eastern or Oriental Orthodoxy, or Protestantism not classified in the previous lists.
These groups or organizations diverge from historic trinitarian theology (usually based on the Council of Nicaea) with different interpretations of Nontrinitarianism.
Most Latter Day Saint denominations are derived from the Church of Christ established by Joseph Smith in 1830. The largest worldwide denomination of this movement, and the one publicly recognized as Mormonism, is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some sects, known as the "Prairie Saints", broke away because they did not recognize Brigham Young as the head of the church, and did not follow him West in the mid-1800s. Other sects broke away over the abandonment of practicing plural marriage after the 1890 Manifesto. Other denominations are defined by either a belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet or acceptance of the Book of Mormon as scripture. The Latter Day Saints comprise a little over 16 million members collectively.
Parachurch organizations are Christian faith-based organizations that work outside and across denominations to engage in social welfare and evangelism. These organizations are not churches but work with churches or represent a coalition of churches.
The relation of New Thought to Christianity is not defined as exclusive; some of its adherents see themselves as solely practicing Christianity, while adherents of Religious Science say "yes and no" to the question of whether they consider themselves to be Christian in belief and practice, leaving it up to the individual to define oneself spiritually.
The relation of these movements to other Christian ideas can be remote. They are listed here because they include some elements of Christian practice or beliefs, within religious contexts which may be only loosely characterized as Christian.
Today these churches are also referred to as the Oriental Orthodox Churches and are made up of 50 million Christians.
Oriental Orthodoxy has separate self-governing jurisdictions in Ethiopia, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Armenia and Syria, and it accounts for roughly 20% of the worldwide Orthodox population.
Eastern Orthodoxy is split into 15 jurisdictions heavily centered in Central and Eastern Europe, accounting for the remaining 80% of Orthodox Christians.