Historically, most Christian Traditions grew out of conflicts in theology and practice. Globally there are three main branches of Christianity: Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy. Within Protestantism, there are numerous denominations, resulting from different dissenters from previous groups. These include Lutheranism (Martin Luther), Calvinism (John Calvin), Methodism (John Wesley), Anglicanism (The Church of England) and many others.
Here we have compiled some basic information about some of the most prominent Christian groups in the United States to help sort out some of the identifying labels used by Christians. There are many other categories (broader and narrower).
Mainline churches: The term “mainline” refers to historic denominational movements in the United States. The “seven sisters” of American Protestantism are the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ. Mainline churches tend to hold more progressive stances on social issues such as LGBTQ rights and the ordination of women (but not always). Many mainline churches are “purple,” meaning that the membership does not predominately identify as Republican or Democrat. The worship style of these churches varies from liturgical (or “high church”) to contemporary.
Evangelical churches: The word “evangelical” originally referred to the spread of the evangel or gospel. In the early 18th century, Evangelicalism began as a religious revival in England and the United States influenced by Puritans, Presbyterians, Anglicans and others. Today many churches and denominations have adopted the label of “Evangelical” to signify a focus on personal salvation and the authority of the Bible. Churches of a variety of denominations identify as Evangelical. According to the National Association for Evangelicals, some prominent Evangelical denominations include the Assemblies of God, The Wesleyan Church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America.
Reformed churches: Historically, Reformed Christianity grew out of the Reformation period and was primarily influenced by the writings of John Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland. Since many Michiganders are descendants of Dutch Reformed settlers there are many Reformed churches in Michigan (many with very Dutch last names). Many are members of the Christian Reformed Church or the Reformed Church in America. Historically, Presbyterian churches are quite similar in doctrine to Reformed churches.
Nondenominational churches: Churches identifying as Nondenominational appeared in the United States in the 20th century. While these churches do not formerly align themselves with any Christian denominations, their theology is usually Evangelical Protestant and their worship style is often contemporary.
Catholic churches: Catholicism is the largest branch of global Christianity (1.3 billion members) and through “apostolic succession” traces, the Roman Catholic Church traces its roots to Saint Peter. Catholic services, called mass, focus on the liturgy and Communion. Unlike Protestant churches, the Catholic churches celebrates seven sacraments: baptism, Eucharist, confirmation, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, marriage and holy orders.
Orthodox churches: While the Eastern Orthodox Church is the second-largest Christian church (260 million members world-wide), the theology and practice of orthodox churches is unfamiliar to most Christians in the United States. The Orthodox Church was in communion with the Roman Catholic Church until the East-West schism in 1054 and is currently the most prominent Christian movement in the Eastern world. Worship services in Orthodox churches are usually in Greek (the language of the New Testament), along with multiple other languages, and orthodox sanctuaries are often filled with icons depicting saints and Biblical scenes.