How Many Protestant Denominations Are There?
The 20,000 30,000 numbers and David Barrett's statistics

How Many Protestant Denominations Are There?
by Dave1988 and others from the Catholic Answers boards

posted April 12, 2005 05:52 PM  itsjustdave1988

see also Part II: The Facts and Stats on "33,000 Denominations"

First, information from Catholic apologist and Evangelical convert Dave Armstrong --

There are indeed sources for these numbers and they are neither Catholic nor unscholarly. To summarize briefly:

According to the Dictionary of Christianity in America [Protestant] (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1990): "As of 1980 David B. Barrett identified 20,800 Christian denominations worldwide . . ." ("Denominationalism," page 351). I have this book, so I have seen this with my own eyes. Barrett "classified them into seven major blocs and 156 ecclesiastical traditions." This is from the Oxford World Christian Encyclopedia (1982) of which he is the editor. Also, according to the United Nations statistics there were over 23,000 competing and often contradictory denominations worldwide (World Census of Religious Activities [U.N. Information Center, NY, 1989]). This was cited in Frank Schaeffer's book Dancing Alone (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, 1994), page 4. Schaeffer is Orthodox. The 1999 Encyclopedia of Christianity has this to say: "In 1985 David Barrett could count 22,150 distinct denominations worldwide." (edited by E. Fahlbusch, et al., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999, vol. 1, p. 800, s.v. "Denomination"). Barrett is the statistical editor. Again citing the Oxford World Christian Encyclopedia (1982): ". . . a projected 22,190 by 1985 . . . The present net increase is 270 denominations each year (five new ones a week)." (pages 15-18)

The definition Barrett worked with was that a denomination was "an organized Christian Church or tradition or religious group or community of believers or aggregate of worship centers or congregations, usually within a specific country, whose component congregations and members are called by the same name in different areas, regarding themselves as an autonomous Christian church distinct from other denominations, churches and traditions."

Now, this is where the figures ultimately come from. No doubt some Catholic apologists (even more well-known ones) use them as a kind of "folk truth" -- having heard them bandied about, and we will examine some serious problems with them below. But that doesn't mean the numbers were entirely made-up and arbitrary. As we see, this is untrue: they come from these sources.

Dave Armstrong

from Richard N. Ostling, Associated Press, 19 May 2001

World Christian Encyclopedia (2001, 2nd edition) by David Barrett, et alSince adding a religion doctorate from Columbia University to his technical background, he has spent 40 years systematizing information on world religions, a calling he discovered while assigned as an Anglican missionary in Africa. Now 73, Barrett recently culminated his oddly remarkable career with publication of the second edition of his global accounting of faiths and the faithful -- trends, details and his best estimated count of believers of all religions in each of 238 nations and territories.

Never has there been such a thorough reference as the two large volumes, running 1,699 pages, of the World Christian Encyclopedia, published by Oxford University Press. Barrett has doggedly visited most of the lands in person, collecting raw material, including national census figures and United Nations data, and recruiting the 444 specialists who feed him material. Among them: Vatican missions librarian Willi Henkel and editor J. Gordon Melton of the Encyclopedia of American Religions. Barrett's encyclopedia sought to count each human being in each religion and religious subcategory in each country as of 1900, 1970, 1990, 1995 and 2000, with projections to 2025.

The 2001 edition, successor to his 1982 first edition, which took a decade to compile, identifies 10,000 distinct religions, of which 150 have 1 million or more followers. Within Christianity, he counts 33,820 denominations.

Barrett also calculates religious populations for the Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year, standard estimates that are used in turn by the World Almanac and innumerable journalists. Such numbers are always debatable, but they're the best available. "We don't really have any rivals," Barrett says. "That's the problem."

Title: World Christian Encyclopedia : a comparative survey of churches and religions in the modern world
Authors: David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, Todd M. Johnson.
Edition: 2nd ed.
Published: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2001.
Description: 2 v. : ill., col. maps ; 32 cm.
Notes: Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
v. 1. The world by countries : religionists, churches, ministries
v. 2. The world by segments : religions, peoples, languages, cities, topics.



From Dave1988 (a different Dave) on the Catholic Answers boards --

33,000+ denominations of Protestantism and counting

I was at the library one day researching something, and I saw the much talked about Protestant reference, the World Christian Encyclopedia by David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson (2001 edition). I thought I'd see for myself what it says. This is what I found....

David Barrett, et al, does indeed refer to "over 33,000 distinct denominations in 238 countries..." (Table 1-5, vol 1, page 16). This refers to his unique definition of a "Christian denomination" but does not include small ones (congregations of a couple hundred or less), which would dramatically increase this number beyond all imagination. Barrett also states there are 242 total Roman Catholic denominations (year 2000 numbers). So I looked into what he believed these denominations were.

Barrett breaks down his encyclopedic reference by country. So I looked up how many Roman Catholic denominations are within the U.S. according to Barrett. Much to my surprise, Barrett shows ONLY ONE Roman Catholic denomination for the United States.

So I wondered where the heck are these 242 denominations? I looked in Barrett's reference for Britain, and again he listed ONLY ONE Roman Catholic denomination. I thought surely that of the 238 countries within his encyclopedic reference there must be a country that had more than ONE Roman Catholic denomination. There wasn't. I could not find one country listed by Barrett that had more than ONE Roman Catholic denomination.

So, what does Barrett mean when he states there are 242 Roman Catholic denominations? It seems Barrett is counting each country as it's own denomination. So, for Barrett, the Roman Catholic Church of the USA is a different denomination than the Roman Catholic Church of Canada. I don't know how he got 242 denominations from 238 countries listed, however. Some numbers from Barrett's...

Denominations / Paradenominations:

1970: 26,350
1995: 33,820

Under U.S. Country Table 2, of the 6,222 US denominations, there's only ONE Roman Catholic denomination listed, and there's 60 Orthodox denominations. Barrett labels the rest of the denominations: Protestant, Anglican, Independent, and Marginal. The more commonly accepted classification of Christianity used even by Protestant scholars, such as Leslie Dunstan in his book Protestantism, Christianity consists of: (1) Catholic, (2) Orthodox, and (3) Protestant. So, using this more commonly understood classification....

Number of U.S. Denominations

Catholic           1
Orthodox       60
Protestant  6,161

Remember, the above numbers are derived using Protestant sources only. Barrett differs from other Protestants such as Dunstan as to what constitutes a Protestant denomination. What Dunstan would call Protestant, Barrett describes as:

Barrett's classification:

Protestant         660
Anglican               1
Independent  5,100
Marginal           400

That's just for the U.S. Yet, there's but ONE Catholic denomination in the U.S., either by Dunstan or Barrett's standard.

Another way of looking at it is not to use Barrett's fuzzy understanding of denominations at all. What does Webster call a denomination? Let's see... Webster calls a 'denomination' a "a religious organization uniting local congregations in a single legal and administrative body." The category called "Protestantism," since it does not actually "unite" any local congregation into a "single legal and administrative body," is more accurately a grouping of denominations rather than a denomination, according to Webster's definition. How does one know if their "denomination" is of the Protestant kind?

You might be a Protestant if....

(1) You believe the Bible consists of only 66 books
(2) You believe authority rests with Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura)
(3) You believe justification is by Faith Alone (Sola Fide)

How many of the "denominations" listed by Barrett fall into this category? I'm betting over 33,000. Let's look at it this way, of the 33,000 that Barrett classifies, which ones refute the pillars of Protestantism shown above? (a) Catholic Church, (b) Oriental Orthodox (5th century schism), (c) Eastern Orthodox (11th century schism). Any others? Perhaps I've missed a few. Even if you break apart the Orthodox Churches into separate Patriarchates (Bishops), that doesn't reduce the BIG number of 33,820 by very much, does it? Some would say, "well that number is completely inflated" based upon Barrett's fuzzy definition of "denomination." On the contrary, I would say that it is a MUCH LARGER NUMBER of denominations using Webster's definition of "denomination."

Even within the Catholic Church, the most diverse forms of Catholicism, the Latin and Eastern Rite, share the same government, the same "religious organization uniting local congregations in a single legal and administrative body." In other words, Canon Law for the Eastern Rite and Canon Law for the Latin Rite come from the same single government, chaired by the same Vicar.

In the U.S. the next largest so-called "denomination" after the Catholic Church is referred to as "Baptist" according to

Is this a single denomination by Webster's use of the word? Can the Baptist denomination rightly be called a "religious organization uniting local congregations in a single legal and administrative body?" I don't believe so.

I suspect the label 'Baptist' is yet another grouping of denominations like the word "Protestant," since according to one Baptist scholar, every

"local Baptist parish church is a law unto itself. Its relations with other Baptists churches, its compliance with recommendations from national church headquarters, its acceptance of any resolutions formulated at regional , national, or international conventions -- all these are entirely voluntary on the part of the parish church." (Religions of America, Leo Rosten, ed.)

If it is true that every Baptist parish-church is a law unto itself, then isn't every individual Baptist parish-church, according to Webster, its own legal and administrative body, its own denomination? I wonder how many Baptist parish-churches are in the world? I know there are too many to easily count here in Colorado Springs.

Are there any major denominations within Protestantism, for example Lutheranism, which can be correctly called a denomination by Webster's usage? If so, I'm not familiar with them. Missouri-Synod Lutherans want nothing to do with the World-Lutheran-Federation Lutherans, for example.

Therefore, I believe 33,000 is a tragically conservative number of Protestant denominations IN THIS COUNTRY (U.S.) let alone in the world.

Anti-Catholic Evangelical apologist Eric Svendsen is quoting from an earlier edition of the same encyclopedic source. Unfortunately, if you've read Dave Armstrong's article on the subject, you know that Eric Svendsen's polemics fall flat upon its face (as usual). The beauty is, Svendsen still has not faced up to the fact that there is ONE Catholic Church listed for every country Barrett lists. Nor has he addressed the fact that all those "denominations" that use a 66-book Protestant Bible, and uphold the pillars of Protestantism (sola scriptura and sola fide) are PROTESTANT even if they claim otherwise. Calling themselves "non-denominational" may be a clever marketing technique, but the world (including Protestant authors) knows them as Protestants.

God bless,


"Lord, in my zeal for the love of truth, let me not forget the truth about love" -- St. Thomas Aquinas

by Dave1988 and others from the Catholic Answers boards

see also Part II: The Facts and Stats on "33,000 Denominations"

Your Total "Christian Denominations" Count for today is
Please pray for Christian unity (John 17; Eph 4:5; Matt 16:18)

Do you want a specific list of Protestant denominations? Here is 5000+

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