Christian Living

What Does Nondenominational Mean?

Many Churches Misuse This Word and Don’t Even Know It

Some churches call themselves nondenominational. But from a practical perspective and a functional standpoint I doubt how true their assessment is.

Nondenominational Definition

Nondenominational refers to a person or an entity—usually a church—that does not restrict themselves to or affiliated with a particular denomination. They do not have any denominational association; they are not related to a denomination.

A synonym for nondenominational is nonsectarian. The definition is similar, in some dictionaries it’s identical.

It means not being associated with a particular denomination or limited to the perspectives of that denomination. Its root word of sect gets at the impact behind this word. Effectively it equates a sect with a denomination.

The Nondenominational Label

In my experience, most churches that use the nondenominational label do so for marketing purposes. They want to eliminate any negative connotations their attendees would have with a certain brand of Christianity, that is, a specific denomination.

At first this seems an enlightened approach. They distance themselves from any denominational limitations and are free to approach God without any denominational baggage.

Yet digging beneath the surface represents a different reality.

When you consider what they believe, it most always mirrors a specific denomination. And when you look at the credentials of their pastors, they usually hail from a denominational school or seminary. Their teaching reflects this influence, whether they know it or not.

It is not, therefore, surprising to find many of the attendees also have this denomination in their past as well. Whether or not they embraced this denominational influence, its teaching continues to form their perspectives.

Recall our definition of nondenominational. One phrase is that they’re not related to a denomination. In truth, most nondenominational churches are in fact related to a denomination, albeit not by name. But they are related by their beliefs and practices.

They may even believe they’re nondenominational, but this perspective is delusional—and even dangerous. I can only think of one truly nondenominational church. They seemed to smartly transcend denominations.

Most all the nondenominational churches I visited over the years have had a Baptist vibe, history, or connection. In one case, however, the nondenominational church was Pentecostal in disguise, as evidenced by their practices, beliefs, and the training of their ministers.

I have nothing against Baptists or Pentecostals, along with their beliefs and practices, but I do dislike them calling themselves nondenominational when it’s not really true.

Nondenominational Marketing

As already covered, this use of the nondenominational label is often a marketing strategy—whether they acknowledge it or not. Their brand carries negative connotations they want to avoid, so they disavow any connection with that denomination.

Yet this tactic is little different than a bait-and-switch sales and marketing ploy.

A related trend is denomination churches removing any hint of their affiliation from their name. Though they maintain their connection with their denomination and don’t claim they’re independent, their name suggests otherwise.

If your denomination’s name is a deterrent to attracting people to your gathering or reaching the world for Jesus, it warrants serious reconsideration. Perhaps cutting all ties is the better approach if you’re serious about growing the Kingdom of God.

Nondenominational in Practice

To be truly nondenominational means to not have the appearance of any one denomination. It means to transcend denominations. Being nondenominational requires taking a comprehensive approach to church practices and beliefs.

This starts by using the Bible as the foundation and studying it afresh and not through the perspective of your experience or the teaching of a particular denomination.

Though this is most challenging to do, it’s not impossible. With God’s help we can reform our thinking to move past denominations and center our focus firmly on him.

This is my goal, and I hope you will make it yours too.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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