Choosing a church to commit to can be an intimidating prospect.
There are many factors to consider including the church’s size, structure, and theological positions.
With dozens of choices, it can often feel overwhelming.
But here’s a quick introduction to a few of the different denominations to help you find the one right for you.
While this list is by no means comprehensive and only offers a brief description of each denomination, hopefully it will serve as a good starting point in your search.
Our list is grouped by the governing structure of the church, which comprises three main categories: episcopal, Presbyterian, and congregational.
Some additional details, as well as a website for each denomination for further research are provided.
Denominations falling under this category are overseen by an archbishop who governs a college of bishops. In turn, these bishops are each responsible for governance over a province of episcopal churches. Clergy and laity follow the guidance of said bishops.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
The Catholic Church is guided by Christ, His Gospel, and the teachings of the Church. They are motivated to engage with issues of the day from a Biblical and historical perspective, using tradition and faith as guides.
They carry on traditions from the earlier church, as well as a more traditional church structure, with the highest authority being the Pope in Rome.
Church services are more formal as well, and membership requires a formal process of confirmation to be considered “in communion” with the church.
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
The Greek Orthodox Church places a heavy emphasis on harmony in the church, as well as following in obedience to the church’s authority.
They believe in the priesthood and spiritual responsibility of believers, but they also hold the Ecumenical Patriarch to be of the highest authority and representing God’s authority on earth.
Their mission is “to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, to teach and spread the Orthodox Christian Faith, to energize, cultivate, and guide the life of the Church.”
Orthodox Church services are also more formal in tradition that goes back to the earlier eastern Church.
The Episcopal Church
Episcopalians originate from the Anglican Church of England, but has become a separate entity in the United States.
They “believe in a loving, liberating, and life-giving God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
They try to follow the teachings of Jesus, while also staying true to their “legacy of inclusion.”
They use the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds in their teachings.
Episcopalian services tend to be more formal than Protestant services, but perhaps less formal than the Catholic or Orthodox churches.
Anglican Church in North America
With Christ as the focal point for their teachings, the Anglican Church of North America professes that the Old and New Testament are the inspired Word of God and places an emphasis on observing the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion.
They subscribe to the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, along with a number of historical church councils and the Book of Common Prayer.
In their own words, “To be an Anglican, then, is not to embrace a distinct version of Christianity, but a distinct way of being a “Mere Christian,” at the same time evangelical, apostolic, catholic, reformed, and Spirit-filled.”
The Anglican Church has a formal leadership structure with the highest authority placed upon the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
This denomination uses both Biblical and “Lutheran confessional sources” to grow in their love for God and for their neighbor.
They aim to spread God’s grace and love through Christ to the world. They highly value service, and emphasize acceptance of people from all different backgrounds.
While they maintain much of the formal structure of church services, the Lutheran confession is distinctly Protestant and holds to theological beliefs that differ from the Catholic Church.
United Methodist Church
This denomination aims to “bear a faithful Christian witness to Jesus Christ.”
They also “reflect critically on our biblical and theological inheritance, striving to express faithfully the witness we make in our own time.”
Following in the footsteps of John Wesley, they recognize the importance of putting their faith and love into action in the way they live.
The United Methodist Church is another more formal, yet Protestant denomination.
Denominations falling under this category have a formal hierarchy of elders, but they are elected by the local church body.
Together, the elders and the pastors of different local churches form a Presbytery, which in turn is part of a larger assembly of presbyteries that elect the highest leaders of the church.
This leadership structure is more bottom up, than top down, unlike in Episcopal type churches such as the Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches.
Presbyterian Church in America
This denomination of churches purports that their overall mission and identity is to be, “Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission.”
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church is reformed in their doctrine as well. They profess to carry out the Great Commission and to be a “global movement of congregations engaged together in God’s mission through transformation, multiplication, and effective biblical leadership.”
Their motto is, “In Essentials: Unity. In Non-Essentials: Liberty. In All Things: Charity.” They affirm the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
This Presbyterian denomination affirms “the sovereignty of God, the authority of Scripture, justification by grace through faith and the priesthood of all believers.”
Like other branches of this denomination, they highly value carrying out the Great Commission. They keep a Book of Confessions as an up to date statement on the positions they hold.
This denomination is also considered by many to hold to more “liberal” interpretations of scripture, some even supporting female pastors and homosexual marriage.
Denominations under this category are independently-run church bodies. They may be affiliated with some sort of governing body outside the church, but they make their own decisions internally. They do not have a hierarchy of leadership, elected or appointed. Non-denomination churches usually fall under this category.
American Baptist Association
“The American Baptist Association is a worldwide group of independent Baptist churches voluntarily associating in their efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. Its organization is designed to be minimal to ensure the complete independence and equal representation of every church in the association.”
Southern Baptist Convention
This denomination professes that their mission is to, “present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.” Their main focus is on evangelism and what they call “kingdom principles and practices.” Their aim is for a spiritual passion for Jesus to be revived in their churches.
Evangelical Free Church of America
The Evangelical Free Church of America is “committed to Jesus Christ, to the gospel, and to one another.” They believe in an education focused on Biblical truth, and thus they highly value the schools of their denomination. They are interested in meeting physical needs of those around the world while sharing the gospel with them.
They emphasize living by and with grace in relationships. Their doctrine follows a more Reformed faith. They are an independent group of churches united by shared beliefs.
Assembly of God
This group of churches is the largest Pentecostal denomination. They profess a mission to “evangelize the lost,” “worship God,” “disciple believers,” and to “show compassion.” They affirm the authority of scripture, as well as many other reformed values.
However, as they are Pentecostal, they place an emphasis on a believer speaking in tongues after being baptized. Spiritual gifts, which the apostles initially demonstrated in the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, are held to be just as prevalent in the church today.
Church of God
One of the older denominations in the U.S., this denomination professes a Reformed faith detailed as, “The denomination stands firmly for justification by faith, the priesthood of believers, the authority of the Bible, religious freedom, and the separation of church and state. It stands against abuses and extravagance of ecclesiastical ritualism and dogmatism.”
They are a Pentecostal and charismatic denomination, meaning they believe that believers should expect a baptism of the Holy Spirit, which will be evidenced by speaking in tongues.
Distinctives of this denomination are its profession in the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as faith, miracles, healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues.
Church of the Nazarene
“The Church of the Nazarene is the largest denomination in the classical Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. The doctrine that distinguishes the Church of the Nazarene is that of entire sanctification.”
“Nazarenes believe that God calls Christians to a life of holy living that is marked by an act of God, cleansing the heart from original sin and filling the individual with love for God and humankind.”
“This experience is marked by entire consecration of the believer to do God’s will and is followed by a life of seeking to serve God through service to others.”
“The mission of the Church of the Nazarene is to make Christlike disciples in the nations.”
The Calvary Chapel movement of non-denomination churches came out of the ministry of Pastor Chuck Smith in California.
Marked by modern worship music and straight through the Bible, verse-by-verse teaching, the Calvary Chapel movement has spread with churches now located in most areas of the country.
Chuck Smith’s vision was “simply teaching the Bible, simply.”