What can experts tell us about growing 'nondenominational' churches? (Also, new podcast alert)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Check out Richard Ostling's update on the next wave of mainstream media coverage of trends in atheism, in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.


In the recent Pew survey showing America’s religious changes, how were nondenominational churches categorized?


Rachael asked previously what America’s biggest Christian groups are, and now has another demographic item about the Pew Research Center’s important “Religious Landscape Study,” which continues to spur discussion. (.pdf here) This blog scanned key findings May 20).

Pew’s 2014 polling tells us how 35,071 U.S. adults identify themselves on religion, with important new fundings about these independent (a.k.a. “nondenominational” or “interdenominational”) local congregations without national affiliations. The huge sample size provides accurate breakdowns for groups, and Pew’s similar survey in 2007 shows trends over time.

The 2014 survey establishes independent congregations as a growing factor in American life and American religious life. By definition, they’re Protestant (neither Catholic nor Orthodox).

U.S. Protestantism gets more complicated by the year and, because they’re nearly impossible to track, the independents are often neglected in religious analyses. Now, thanks to Pew, there’s solid current data. Since 2007 the independents have posted “the most significant growth” of any U.S. Protestant segment. Today, 6.2 percent of all adults (and 13 percent of Protestants) identify this way, a major increase from 4.5 percent of adults (and 9 percent of Protestants) in 2007.

We’re talking about something like 15 million adults. The independents manage considerable success in the nation’s fluid and competitive religious marketplace despite the increase of non-religious Americans. Some 5.3 percent of independent members are converts raised in other religious groups or no religion. Pew figures the independent category “gains roughly five adherents through religious switching for every adherent it loses.”

A lopsided 78 percent of those in independent congregations identify as “evangelical” (including “charismatic” and “fundamentalist” subcategories) and they make up 19 percent of U.S. evangelicals, up from 13 percent s of 2007. Meanwhile, 16 percent of independents are “mainline” Protestants and 6 percent belong to “historically black” churches. In explaining those categories, Pew says “American Protestantism is best understood not as a single religious tradition but rather as three distinct traditions” that “share similar beliefs, practices and histories,” as follows:

Continue reading "America’s growing 'nondenominational' churches" by Richard Ostling.

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