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Denominations - Protestant

Short profiles of selected Christian denominations in the U.S.

Denominations Guide

This overview of denominations in the United States serves the needs of Louisville Seminary students who wish to visit churches outside their own traditions, and to help them as they move into ministry and agency positions where they will need to be able to speak intelligently and respectfully with pastors and co-workers of other faith traditions.

Generally Protestant congregations are grouped into three dominant traditions. Mainline Protestantism, Evangelical Protestantism and Historically Black Protestantism. However, many denominations fall outside of these three traditions.

A common mistake people make is holding assumptions such as "all Presbyterian churches are mainline" or "all Baptist churches are evangelical." Each of the larger denomination traditions (such as Methodist, Presbyterian, Holiness, or Anglican) often are comprised of many smaller denominations, and these hold a wide variety of beliefs and values.

Mainline Protestant:

  • Mainline Protestant denominations typically emphasize a proactive view on issues of social and economic justice and a tolerance of varied individual beliefs. While mainline Protestantism is usually seen as more theologically and socially liberal than evangelical Protestantism, there obviously is variation among mainline denominations, congregations, and individuals.

  • Mainline Protestant churches share a common approach that often leads to collaboration in organizations such as the National Council of Churches. They sometimes are given the alternative name of "ecumenical Movement."

  • Examples of Mainline Protestant denominations include the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, the Reformed Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. See for a listing and details regarding individual mainline traditions.

  • It must be noted that the term "mainline protestant" may be problematic as the term can be construed as having historical anglo-saxon protestant ethnocentric assumptions. "Mainline' also can be erroneously associated with "mainstream," which can lead to disinfranchisement of faith traditions of evangelical, fundamentalist and non-white individuals.

Evangelical Protestant:

  • Evangelical Protestant denominations and churches emphasize conversion and evangelism, hold biblical authority in high regard, and tend to seek more separation from the broader culture.

  • Evangelical Protestantism is usually seen as more theologically and socially conservative than mainline Protestantism, although there is obviously variation among evangelical denominations, congregations, and individuals.

  • Evangelical Protestant denominations include the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Black Protestant:

  • These churches are those that minister to predominantly African American congregations in the United States. The first black churches were founded by free blacks in the 18th century. Historically black churches have long been the centers of communities, serving numerous important functions.

  • While the religious-meaning system and social organization of these denominations are similar to those found in white evangelical denominations, African American Protestants emphasize different aspects of Christian doctrine, especially the importance of freedom and the quest for justice.

  • Black Protestants tend to be liberal on economic attitudes and conservative on social issues.

  • The seven major Black Protestant denominations are: the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Church of God in Christ, the National Baptist Convention of America, the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. -- ARDA. For more information about Historically Black congregations, please see

More information regarding classification of Protestant traditions can be found here:

Information included in this guide is the courtesy ARDA, Pew Research Center and individual denomination webpages.

Useful links

  • Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) - The ARDA provides a tool for accessing data on different denominations, including their history and most recent membership numbers. A family tree is also provided which traces how a given denomination developed over time.

  • US Religion Census - Provides a county-by-county measure of religious bodies in the US. The study is currently sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. The survey includes maps, reports, and data sets of survey results. The 2020 and 2010 reports are available.

  • World Religions & Spirituality Project - WRSP is an international scholarly consortium that collaboratively assembles and disseminates information on alternative and emerging religious and spiritual groups around the world. WRSP also offers supporting teaching and learning resources for educational purposes.

  • Pew Research Center - Religion -- Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. We conduct public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research. We do not take policy positions. -- Pew website.

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