In the last 10 years, the number of American Christian adherents in nondenominational churches nearly doubled in number and surpassed America's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, by several million adherents, the 2020 U.S. Religion Census shows.
The study, released Friday, shows that over that period, the number of adherents in Southern Baptist churches and the United Methodist Church each decreased by about 2 million, while the number of adherents in independent, nondenominational Christian churches increased by nearly 9 million.
In its latest report, the USRC said the SBC registered 17,649,040 adherents and had the largest number of congregations among all denominations, with 51,379, representing 10.9% of America’s religious population and 5.3% of the general population overall. The UMC was found to be in the highest number of counties, 2,989, across the U.S. In 2010, however, the SBC reported 19,896,975 adherents spread across 50,816 congregations, which represented 6.4% of the population overall.
That same year, nondenominational Christian churches had 12,241,329 adherents in 35,496 congregations, which represented 4% of the overall population. In 2020, with nearly 5,000 more congregations identifying as nondenominational, Christian adherents in the group swelled to 21,095,641. Their share of America’s religious population increased to 13.1%, while they now also represent 6.4% of the general population.
“The decrease in certain denominations and increase in nondenominational churches may be a result of the same factors,” Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, who counted independent churches for the USRC, said in a statement. “Denominational brands have weakened, and divisions have increased over issues such as female clergy or sexual orientation. This likely led some adherents to seek or even start new, nondenominational churches.”
Nondenominational churches, according to Grace Church in Plano, Texas, are churches that hold “no connection with the recognized denominations and mainline churches such as the Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, or Methodist churches,” all of which have been losing members.
“The reasons behind the establishment of a specific nondenominational church would depend upon the particular circumstances and ideas of its founders but, for the most part, these churches arose out of a desire for independence and a need to return to the biblical basics of Christianity, removed from the doctrinal and sometimes political affiliations that many long-established denominational churches had accumulated over the years,” adds the website of Grace Church, which was founded by Pastor Gerald Brooks in 1982.
It continues: “Nondenominational churches bring people from all walks of life together. Because there is no specific denominational affiliation, your background, upbringing, and culture won’t be the dictating factors for worship. Your love for Jesus will be what connects you to others in the church.”
Researchers added: "Among the 212 religious bodies participating in both the 2010 and 2020 USRC, the number of congregations increased 2.2% and the number of adherents increased 6.5%, while the total U.S. population increased 7.4% during this time
Thumma, was not immediately available to discuss the report when contacted by The Christian Post, but he told The Spokesman-Review that nondenominational churches are growing because there is no image associated with it.
“If you say you’re Southern Baptist (for example), people have a picture of what that is,” he told the publication. “If you say you’re Pentecostal, or Assemblies of God, it can come with negative baggage in many cases.”
Pastor Dan Jarms of Faith Bible Church, in Spokane, Washington, told The Spokesman-Review that even during the pandemic he experienced church growth and credits that to solid biblical teaching.
“We take the promise from Jesus in Matthew 16:18 to Peter … Jesus promised he’s going to have his churches be alive and well and thriving as long as they are speaking the message of the Gospel,” he said. “I just believe that promise. I’m not a very good speaker, not very charismatic, I don’t know why we’re growing, but I do know people are fed, they have hope in the message Jesus gives … Jesus is doing something, and I can’t explain it.”