A Christian denomination is a distinct religious body within Christianity, identified by traits such as a name, organization, leadership and doctrine. Individual bodies, however, may use alternative terms to describe themselves, such as church or sometimes fellowship. Divisions between one group and another are defined by authority and doctrine; issues such as the nature of Jesus, the authority of apostolic succession, eschatology, and papal primacy may separate one denomination from another. Groups of denominations--often sharing broadly similar beliefs, practices, and historical ties--are sometimes known as "branches of Christianity" or "denominational families" (such as Eastern or Western Christianity and their sub-branches).
This is not a complete list, but aims to provide a comprehensible overview of the diversity among denominations of Christianity. Only those Christian denominations or organizations with like2do.com resource articles will be listed in order to ensure that all entries on this list are notable and verifiable. The denominations or organizations listed are ordered from ancient to contemporary Christianity.
Some groups 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 Orthodox Church also considers itself the original Church, and pre-denominational. To express further the complexity involved, the Catholic and 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 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 groups 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 fall into this category.
Some groups 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. The largest group is the Catholic Church with more than 1.29 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, Pentecostalism and the Holiness Movement 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). 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 groups. As an example, this list contains groups also known as "rites" which many, such as the 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 churches about whether other churches 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 religious group 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. 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 Parthian Church during the Sassanid Period. It is also called the Nestorian Church or the Church of Persia. Declaring itself separate from the state church of the Roman Empire 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. 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 AD.
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), 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), the Chaldean Syrian Church, and the Mar Thoma Church. Together, the Assyrian, Ancient, Chaldean Syrian, Mar Thoma, and Chaldean Catholic Church comprise over 1.6 million.
Assyrian Christianity comprises churches who keep the traditional Nestorian Christology and ecclesiology of the historical Church of the East after the original church reunited with the Catholic Church, forming the Chaldean Catholic Church in 1552. The Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East together have 0.6 million members.
Oriental Orthodoxy comprises those Christians who did not accept the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Other denominations often erroneously label these churches "Monophysite"; however, as the Oriental Orthodox do not adhere to the teachings of Eutyches, they themselves reject this label, preferring the term Miaphysite. Some of these churches, especially the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria claim origination by Saint Mark and his 1st-century missionary journeys.
Historically, many of the Oriental Orthodox churches consider themselves collectively to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that Christ founded. Some have considered the Oriental Orthodox communion 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. Oriental Orthodoxy forms the fourth largest communion of Christian churches, with approximately 76 million members.
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is composed of 24 autonomous sui iuris particular churches: the Latin Church and the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches. The Catholic Church 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 1.29 billion as of 2016.
The Latin, or Western Catholic 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). In 2015, the Latin Church composed 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). The Eastern Catholic Churches and the Latin Church (which together compose the worldwide Catholic Church) share the same doctrine and sacraments, and thus the same faith. The total membership of the churches accounts for approximately 18 million members.
The Eastern Orthodox Church consists of jurisdictions in communion with each other. The church has over 250 million members, making it the second largest church. Some of them have a disputed administrative status (i.e. their autonomy or autocephaly is only partially recognized), and are marked as such, but all remain in communion with each other as one church. The Orthodox claim continuity (based upon apostolic succession) with the early Church, and consider themselves pre-denominational, being the original Church of Christ before 1054.
This list is provided in the official order of precedence. Indentation indicates autonomy rather than autocephaly, and autonomous churches are listed under their respective autocephalous mother church.
Proto-Protestantism refers to individuals and movements that propagated ideas similar to Protestantism before 1517, when Martin Luther (1483-1546) initiated the Protestant Reformation. Major representatives were Peter Waldo (c. 1140 - c. 1205), John Wycliffe (1320s-1384), Jan Hus (c. 1369-1415) and the movements they started.
This list includes a variety of Protestant denominations which separated from the Catholic Church during the Reformation, as well as their further divisions. 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.
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.
Nondenominational, Evangelical, charismatic, neo-charismatic, independent and other churches are on the rise, and constitute a significant part of Protestant Christianity. The most accepted figure among various authors and scholars includes around 900 million Protestant Christians.
Lutherans are a major branch of Protestantism, identifying with the theology of Martin Luther, a German friar, ecclesiastical reformer, and theologian. The whole of Lutheranism has about 70-90 million members.
Anabaptists trace their origins to the Radical Reformation. The movement is seen as an offshoot of Protestantism, although the view has been challenged by some Anabaptists. Approximately 2.1 million Anabaptists live in the world as of 2015.
Anglicanism has referred to itself as the via media between Catholicism and Protestantism. It considers itself to be 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 number over 85 million.
As secessionist churches, these churches are not in full communion with the Anglican Communion. A select few of these churches are recognized by certain individual provinces of the Anglican Communion.
Reformed Protestantism, also known as the Reformed tradition, or more commonly Calvinism, is a movement which broke from the Catholic Church in the 16th century. There are from 55-100 million Christians identifying as Reformers.
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). There are about 75-105 million Baptists.
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. Although a movement in Lutheranism, influence on Anglicanism, in particular John Wesley, led to the spawning of Methodism.
The Holiness Movement involves a set of beliefs and practices which emerged from 19th-century Methodism. As of 2015, churches of the movement had an estimated 12 million adherents.
Restorationism and the Restoration Movement seek to restore Christianity along the lines of what is known about the apostolic early church which restorationists see as the search for a more pure and more ancient form of the religion. Restorationism and the Restoration Movement comprise Protestant Christians identifying either with trinitarian or nontrinitarian theologies.
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.
Evangelicalism is a transdenominational 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.
These churches are the result of a merger between distinct denominational churches. Churches are listed here when their disparate heritage marks them as inappropriately listed in the particular categories above.
Many churches are non-denominational. These churches have emerged into their own pseudo-denomination, with many similarities. Most of these churches have origins in a historic mainline Protestant denomination.
These nondenominational Evangelical churches (due to the emergence of video streaming technologies) are a multi-site church, sharing a broadcast some Sundays or all Sundays with multiple church buildings and locations.
These are denominations, movements, and organizations deriving from mainline Protestantism.
These groups of Protestant churches and organizations follow Nontrinitarian theology with different interpretations of it.
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.
The Independent Catholic churches self-identify as either Western or Eastern Catholic although they are not affiliated with or recognized by the Catholic Church. Independent Catholic and Independent Orthodox churches among others are recognized as part of the Independent Sacramental Movement.
These churches consider themselves Eastern Orthodox but are not in communion with the main body of Eastern Orthodoxy. Some of these denominations consider themselves as part of True Orthodoxy or the Old Believers as examples.
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.
Old Believers form a sub-type of True Orthodoxy that refused to accepted the liturgical and ritual changes made by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow between 1652 and 1666.
Syncretic Eastern Orthodox churches churches blend with other denominations outside of Eastern Orthodoxy and are not in communion with the main body of Eastern Orthodoxy.
The following churches have a Miaphysite Christological position but used to believe different a Christological position and may accept partial communion with ancient Oriental Orthodox churches for various reasons.
The following churches affirm a Miaphysite Christological position but are not in communion with any of the ancient Oriental Orthodox Churches for various reasons.
These are churches which blend with other denominations outside of Oriental Orthodoxy but retain a mostly Miaphysite Christological position, and are not in communion with the main body of the ancient Oriental Orthodox churches.
These are Asian-initiated churches from Chinese and Japanese regions that were formed during or still under repression in authoritarian eras in their countries as responses from government crackdowns of their old Christian denominations which were deemed illegal or unrecognized in their countries states atheism or religion.
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 practising 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.