33,000 Denominations – Steve’s Apology :-)

by Steve Ray on August 27, 2007

Before I apologize  Smile  let's first look at the data from the source in question.

It may be the way one wants to read the data, but to call people liars because they read the data the way it is presented by the source is quite disingenuous. There may be a difference of opinion with reading the data, but that doesn't make one a liar — as has been charged. I have copied the chart covering three pages from the World Christian Encyclopedia. I think everyone invovled with apologetics should have a copy of this set. This chart is what all the hubbub is all about.

Now you can see the data for yourself — and you can be the judge whose numbers are right and who's are wrong. You can see who is trying to be fair and who is being disingenuous.

 You can see the Chart for yourself. It is entitled: "Organized Christianity: global membership ranked by 6 major ecclesiastico-cultural megablocs and 300 major traditions AD 1970-2025." This chart is found on pages 16-18 of the World Christian Encyclopedia published by Oxford University Press.

Page one, page two, page three. Page three is very significant because it has the total numbers along the bottom.

What do you see on the Chart?
When you look at the chart you will see the 6 megablocs are 1) Orthodox, 2) Roman Catholic, 3) Aanglican, 4) Protestant, 5) Independent, 6) Marginal Christian.  Together these groups made up 33,909 "denominations" (their word, not mine) in 2000 AD.

1) Orthodox broke with Rome around 1000 AD. They are a schism and in 2000 AD made up 764 of this number.

2) Roman Catholics make up 242 of this number but they are almost all in union with Rome just with names like Melkite, Maronite, etc.

3) Anglicans made up 168 "denominations." Though listed in a separate category than "Protestant" they can certainly be seen as "protestant" having broke from Rome in the same century as the followers of Luther and Calvin. However, their numbers are insignificant.

4) Protestants make up 8,973 "denominations." This catagory includes mainline Protestant groups like Baptists, Adventists, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.

5) Independent Christian groups made up 22,148 "denominations'' and included groups like Independent Baptist, Plymouth Brethren, Independent Methodist, Independent Lutheran, Apostolic Congregations, Charismatic denominations, Pentecostal, other Adventists, Reformed Anglicans, Independent Reformed Presbyterian, Old Catholic, and many more (see the chart). Now, if you cut these out and say they are not "protestant" then my numbers are false. But even though they are listed as "Independent" they are every bit "protestant denominations." Even if you knock off a few bizarre, questionable ones it still is a huge number. To say that one who counts these as "protestant denominations" are liars is quite disingenuous. 

6) Marginal Christian groups make up only 1,596. These include Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Liberal Catholic, Gnostic, Swedenborgian, etc. These are not "protestant" but certainly fall within the pale of appearing as "Christian" to an uneducated observer.

My Sincere Apology:
So, what do we have? Cut out the Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Marginal Christian groups and you end up with 31,121 Protestant and Independent Protestant denominations. So, I sincerely apologize for being 1,879 too high when I said the number was 33,000. That works out to 5.6% in error. You all have my sincere apology (tongue in cheek)   :-) 

By now, 7 years beyond 2,000 AD used by World Christian Encyclopedia, I suspect my number is now too low and maybe I should raise it to 39,000, the number listed on the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary site.

Now what do we find projected for 2025? 
Here are the projections which you can also see on the Chart.

Catholics will go from 242 in 2000 to 245 in 2025. More rites loyal to Rome will be added. Hurrah!
Anglicans will go from 168 to 169. 
Protestants Mainline denominations will go from 8,973 to 9,490.
Independent "protestant" churches will go from 22,148 to a whopping 49,431. 
Marginals will go from 1,596 to 2,030.

Looking at these numbers — with the charts provided so you can see for yourself — if someone wants to call me and the other Catholic apologists liars, then I would be very careful about anything else they tell you. And we may ask who really owes who an apology?

Now I put this to an end for I have more important things to do. I will let the opponent have the last word word since he'll take it anyway. Catholic apologists can continue to use 33,000+ as the number of denominations with confidence.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe McClane August 27, 2007 at 6:26 PM

Hi Steve,

I just wanted to send you a note to say how much I appreciate your ministry and work for Jesus and his Church. I have used your materials as references in my Podcast and have pointed people to your website. My family, as well as my parish, have enjoyed your video series and can’t wait to see what you have in store next.

I appreciate your post on the # of denominations greatly. I once made this point to a protestant I was talking to and they dismissed this as simply novel. However, I feel this was a pretty big deal in my own conversion (from the Church of Christ) because when I was looking for the “truth” I talked to my dad and he provided me a book of denominations that was thicker than my Bible. I took one look at this book and said there is a major problem here.

St. John’s Gospel tells us that “truth” is a person not an abstract and its not relative. It is Truth that sets us free and all those seeking it will indeed find Jesus himself. Looking at the landscape of denomination, and seeing how they were all claiming the “truth” of scripture, I knew, with out really knowing, that there must be only one Church who alone possessed the fullness of Truth. This would be the very Body of Jesus.

Long story short… I was being led, by the Holy Spirit to the Catholic Church through the see of denominations. In my 11th podcast, on conversions, we discussed Church shopping and the definitive statement was made, that sums it all up, we are looking for a Church who believe what we believe… and that is not the pursuit of Truth. We need to seek the Truth and the Church will always preach it and teach it even if the world refuses to believe it.

At any rate… thank you and God Bless
Joe M
The Catholic Hack!

Gracie August 27, 2007 at 9:19 PM

Dear Steve,

Thank you once again for following up with such great information. Yes, I would say someone else owes you an apology. After all, isn’t that what us Christians are called to if we are proven wrong in what we say? You have done a wonderful job in defending Our Lady and her Assumption. Some day perhaps all of your points will be answered. Until then, we will await the apology you are owed. And yes, anyone can look at the numbers and know immediately who is telling untruths here.

God Bless you,


Donald T. Hartley August 28, 2007 at 9:38 AM

That is the most authoritative argument I have seen on the subject. 33,000 Protestants represents a terrible reality of there division. There is a difference between having various “rites” that respect customs and tradition within culture who share and hold fast to the unity of faith, from denominations within Protestantism. The Seventh Day Adventest could care less of the Southern Baptist while the Church of Christ has no connection with the Assymblies of God. These groups have a hard time speaking in one voice for themselves let alone each other. James White can play the violin all he wants, like Pharoah he has hardened his heart. The four marks that distinguish the Catholic Communions “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic” is present in all it’s history and traditions, The Protestent groups have enough trouble trying to keep their congregations believing in what their professions are. It all boils down to the book. They can’t agree on it.

Ellie August 28, 2007 at 3:38 PM

I like the point someone once made in that forget how many thousands of off-shoots there are. It’s irrelevant.

Two churches are too many.

(Rites with doctrinal unity are different than denominations of course.)

Steve Ray August 28, 2007 at 6:30 PM

Anonomous Comment:

Love the blog. James White is a tragically funny guy. Can you even imagine (literally – can you even wrap your mind around the concept) of glorifying denominationalism and factionalism? That’s simply another way of glorying in not knowing (and not even caring to know about) the truth.

Simply astounding. Only the truth will set you free (Jn 8), and he doesn’t even care. Truly tragic.

Honestly in all my reading and my years in university, this is the one guy I’ve ever read who continues to take himself so seriously and yet simultaneously continues to astound me the way he skirts issues and doesn’t answer questions and continually stumbles into ridiculous intellectual traps like this. He has yet to even form a coherent sentence as to why he believes in the New Testament Canon. Central tenet of his being, and he has no reason for it.

(Joseph Campbell the self-styled anthropologist is another such tragically comical “intellectual”).

It’s simply…mind-boggling. It’s nothing short of childish.

Eric G. August 29, 2007 at 9:18 PM

I'm sorry, but I still think this figure is inflated. I'm Catholic, and will agree that the divisions within Protestantism are both ridiculous and scandalous.

Steve Ray: I am glad we agree on that — which has been my point from the beginning. I just used a source that has been confusing and generated a lot of various opinions.

However, the conclusions you infer from, these statistics are dishonest, or at least not well-made.

Steve Ray: This is of course your opinion. I don't think I am dishonest nor that the conclusions are dishonest. You will have to take that up with the author and statistian of the World Christian Encyclopedia, not me. And he is not the only one that has come up with such statistics and numbers.

Just as the chart you produced wrongly numbers each bishop's conference of the Latin Catholic Church as a separate denomination (!), and does the same with each of the Eastern Catholic Churches, so i is also the case that in several instances, the supposed Protestant denominations listed are actually in communion with each other, and so it is disingenuous to refer to them separately as denominations. Let me give but one example, to prove my point.

Steve Ray: Let's get something clear from the start. The chart is not mine — I only made it available. I understand the problem with the listing of Catholics, but it does not equally apply to Orthodox. Though they generally hold to similar theological and liturgical positions, there are  multiple jurisdictions that are not in union with each other, nor governed by an overarching hierarchy. When they split with Rome they split into ethnical jurisdictions, so their numbers apply. The only ones that don't are Roman Catholics because they DO have a world-wide unity.

 The chart claims there are 253 Lutheran denominations. And yet, several of these so-called "denominations" are actually in communion with each other, and it's these communions are what should be more properly called "denominations". For instance, the Lutheran World Federation represents some 140 Lutheran bodies, all of whom are in communion with each other. The same goes for the International Lutheran Council which represents 30 of these denominations and the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference which comprises some 20 national churches.

Steve Ray: Let's look at one example you use — the Lutheran World Federation. Explaining their membership and organization, their constitution states that the member groups are "autonomous member churches." No one could claim such a thing of a Catholic parish. Though the Lutheran World Federation has many member groups, they are still each "autonomous member churches," A comparable situation could be the United Nations which does not mean that the "autonomous member countries" are not still individual and distinct, not a part of a jurisdictional authority. My guess is that it is the same for all or most the others Barrett lists.

And the same goes for the other "denominations" listed. Once all this were taken into consideration, I suspect that the number of Protestant denominations would number in the several hundred. Still a scandal, but not nearly as drastic as some would have us believe, using a resource which claims that the Catholic Church is made of 250 denominations!

Steve Ray: As I said earlier, the Catholic Church is really the only exception. Plus, I think the number could be much greater, not much less. When you take into account the thousands of smaller groups that don't even show up on the "denominational map" the numbers could be much larger. I tend to judge this matter by the biblical principle laid out in Matthew 18. In my longer document and explanation I make this clear. Jesus said to take a sinner to "THE Church." Where is THE Church? How many distinct "churches" or "denominations" really have no authority over them to take the sinner too? Any group or set of groups that fail to have a jurisdictional authority over them can be viewed as a separate "denomination."  Obviously this has generated a lot of differing opinions and I don't' suspect it will be agreed upon any time soon.

But you and I can agree that it is not a happy situation and it is a scandal.

Any further discussion of this matter should be taken up on my Message Board since I have to move on to other topics.

flewen November 23, 2007 at 11:23 AM

I think this is a whole scrap thingy, 242 ROman Catholic denominations? I don't think so…try to look at the references of different countries, you can, only 1 ROman CAtholic CHurch is written there? what the heck..where can we find that 242 denominatons? so you mean, the ROman CAhtolic CHurch in the Philippines is different from the ROman CAtholic CHurch in Japan?no it's not!!! tsk tsk tsk…

STEVE RAY HERE: We agree and have already established that point, if I remember right, in my writing on the matter.

Bob4BVM September 14, 2009 at 4:31 PM

Just found your site. Great, I was discussing similar on the CAForums.
Saw you in Oregon City a few yrs back, and read your book, which I since lent out and lost, need to get another copy of “Crossing the Tiber”.
As in the book, you are true to form here with calm, sensible answers and VERY solid factual backup of all claims.
So many lost people out there, so much misinformation and lies.
Thanks for helping plow thru the fog !

“…it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence , being constrained to do so by your creed. ” – G.K. Chesterton

Elise Hougesen February 23, 2020 at 4:38 PM

My question is, when someone is baptized outside of the One, Holy, Roman Catholic Church, how can they be members of the Body of Christ, the visible Catholic Church? I can see them belonging to Jesus Christ Himself, and then given the opportunity to be confirmed as Catholics and then they belong to the Body of Christ; but if they are confirmed in a non-Catholic denomination, how can they belong to the Body of Christ?

STEVE RAY HERE: Thanks for writing Elise. This website may help you https://www.learnreligions.com/the-sacrament-of-baptism-542130

Also, https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/what-no-salvation-outside-the-church-means

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