Non-Denominational: Two Truths and a Lie, a series

Lynette Kittle

iBelieve Contributors
Published: Apr 27, 2022
Non-Denominational: Two Truths and a Lie, a series

There are literally thousands of non-denominational churches ranging from small, family-led, community-based congregations to well-established mega-churches. Non-denominational churches cover a wide array of preaching and worship styles from very fundamental Bible-based teachings to Spirit-led preaching.

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Non-denominational churches began developing in the mid-1940s-through now, starting with a scattering of independent congregations to become one of the largest groups in America.

In definition, a non-denominational church is a Protestant Christian church with no association with a recognized denomination or mainline church, such as Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, Baptist, and so on.

Denominations are established to make sure the truth of Scripture and biblical doctrines remain steadfast in the churches under its umbrella and to protect the participating churches from heresy.

2 Peter 2:1-3 warns believers of false prophets and teachers who come into the church and secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereignty of God, perverting and distorting biblical truth.

Whereas denominational churches are accountable to regional, central, national, and sometimes even global leadership overall, a non-denominational church is its own governing leadership, setup locally within the church as they see fit whether it’s with a board consisting of church members, or elders, or a senior pastor.

Reasons Why People Are Drawn to Non-Denominational Churches

Non-denominational churches draw attendees from many denominational and faith backgrounds for countless reasons. For new Christians who lack a church background, non-denominational churches may come across as more open and welcoming to baby believers.

Also, some who prefer non-denominational congregations are those who have been disillusioned in their own denominations, and see a denominational-free church as offering them a much-needed change and freedom from their past ties and restrictions. 

Still, some have just grown weary in their denominations and are looking for what they consider a more gracious type of Christian fellowship, with a desire to leave older traditions behind for a more contemporary setting. 

Many believers have been drawn to Calvary Chapel churches because of their history of being birthed during the late 1960s and early 1970s Jesus Movement in Southern California. It grew out of hordes of hippies being born again and following Jesus, led through the ministry of Pastor Chuck Smith. 

Calvary Chapel follows the fundamental evangelical doctrines of Christianity, including believing in the inerrancy of Scripture and the Trinity. Its doctrines fall into the middle ground of fundamentalism and Pentecostalism in modern Protestant theology.

Smith also mentored Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship and speaker at the massive evangelistic Harvest Crusades held in Southern California and beyond.

Pros and Cons of Non-Denominational Churches

Starting a non-denominational church offers a pastor, staff, and members an opportunity to create and set up their own programs, free from denominational guidelines which may require them to use specific resources and follow particular protocols.

Especially for enthusiastic new converts who feel called to pastor their own churches, starting a non-denominational church offers an opportunity to serve without having to jump through denominational hoops to be considered qualified. 

Many denominations follow 1 Timothy 3:6's advice in ordaining their pastors, meaning new believers are not able to serve until years down the road. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.”

Some churchgoers prefer non-denominational churches because of the freedom they off in church governing, with the local church having the power to choose its beliefs and practices, along with the ability to adapt to cultural changes as needed, unbridled from accountability to a central leadership organization.

Non-denominational churches also oversee their own finances, whereas most denominational churches are required to send monthly reports and contribute financial support to their headquarters.

Downsides to attending a non-denominational church may include the lack of financial support from a larger group, one available to help out when church needs and projects arise. Additionally, there may be nowhere to turn during a church crisis situation, such as addressing or confronting issues within the leadership. 

Consequently, the bringing together of such a wide variety of faith backgrounds into one congregation brings its own challenges, in fostering unity in the merging of sometimes diverse beliefs and backgrounds.

#1 Truth: Non-denominational Churches Are Not a Denomination

Although classified as under the non-denominational covering or heading, each congregation is independent and unaffiliated with each other. 

There are literally thousands of non-denominational churches ranging from small, family-led, community-based congregations to well-established mega-churches. Non-denominational churches cover a wide array of preaching and worship styles from very fundamental Bible-based teachings to Spirit-led preaching.

Well-known non-denominational churches include Willow Creek Community Church, Hillsong Church, Northwest Bible Church, Calvary Chapel, Vineyard Churches, Oak Cliff Bible Church, Lakewood Church, and Gateway Church.

#2 Truth: Many Non-Denominational Churches Come out of Other Denominations

Although many non-denominational churches claim they have no larger Church connection, some have been birthed in reaction to a heresy being introduced into their denomination, causing members to disconnect themselves from it.

Whether it’s because of doctrinal differences, leadership concerns, political affiliations, or more, numbers of non-denominational churches are the result of members being dissatisfied within their denomination and beginning a new work independent of it.

In researching the beginnings of many non-denominational churches, there lie stories of branching off from a denominational church. Some as part of new growth and others from a congregational split, where a large majority of members leave and begin a new church free from association or denominational ties to the church they left.

Branching off from denominations has birthed non-denominational churches across the US and around the world. One example is the Vineyard Church’s branching off of the Calvary Chapel movement in its pursuit of a more Spirit-led direction that included “signs and wonders” and practicing “Power Evangelism.” 

Lie: All Members within a Non-Denominational Church Are in Agreement

Many non-denominational churches include members from a large variety of church influences and backgrounds, including Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Charismatic, along with Jewish and non-Christians.

Although non-denominational churches seek to unify believers to be of the same mind, coming from a wide array of backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences, the blending together can be challenging. There can be a hodge-podge of biblical beliefs and doctrines trying to come together in one place, while at the same time people are growing and maturing in their faith at different levels and understanding. 

Because non-denominational churches draw individuals from an array of spiritual backgrounds and experiences, leadership is wise to keep alert to where differences arise, keep watch over any divisiveness, and seek to bring unity and understanding to any issues or concerns.

New Members Change Church Direction

A recent non-denominational church situation making worldwide news is the Anaheim Vineyard Church’s withdrawal from the Vineyard association. With the installation of a new pastor and the replacement of board members came a redirection of the church's goals as the new voices changed the dynamics and vision of the former congregation.

Whereas many denominations own the property and buildings of the churches within their membership, non-denominational churches usually own their properties and buildings. Because the Anaheim Vineyard owns its assets and not the association, it’s not only leaving but also taking its multi-million dollar property and finances in hand.

The real controversy ensued is not the issue of the pastor and congregation deciding to leave the association, but their claim to what is seen as the historical and foundational Anaheim Vineyard Church building, along with its finances.

Deciding to leave with the landmark church in hand is sending shock waves throughout the association, and marking the end of an era for Vineyard Churches. As one of the movement’s earliest churches, along with hosting historical national Vineyard conferences for decades, to many people, it represents the heart of Vineyard and its worship music revolution.

Photo Credit: ©Sincerely Media/Unsplash

Lynette Kittle is married with four daughters. She enjoys writing about faith, marriage, parenting, relationships, and life. Her writing has been published by Focus on the Family, Decision, Today’s Christian Woman,,,, and more. She has a M.A. in Communication from Regent University and serves as associate producer for Soul Check TV.