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The Families of Christianity: Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and others; one faith, many families

Christianity is a tremendously diverse movement that is often seen as being divided into several family groups. While it is difficult to describe or depict this diversity, the table below is a good a place to start. 

  • Those who identify with the Catholic Church, centered in Rome, represent by far, the largest of these families. 
  • Second in numerical strength are the Protestants, a far more diverse group including Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, and so on. 
  • There are large bodies of Christians who cannot be identified as either Protestant or Catholic, however. These include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Jehova's Witnesses. These fall into the "Other" category below. 
  • Then there are the Orthodox Christians who tend to be concentrated in Russian and Eastern Europe.
  • Finally, the Anglicans (known as Episcopalians in the US). 

Looking at it from another perspective, while the Roman Catholic Church is the largest single denomination, there are as many Christians in denominations that do not accept the primacy, or even the legitimacy of the Pope, as there are within the bounds of the Catholic Church.

If the question were taken up by a referendum among the entire Christian community around the world, God only knows whether the institution of the Papacy would survive by popular vote of the world's two billion Christians. 

Other 275,583,000

(source: Encyclopedia Britannica)

Breaking these families down by "denomination," begins to uncover even greater diversity.


Orthodox/Eastern Christian240,000,000
African indigenous sects 110,000,000
Jehovah's Witnesses14,800,000
Latter Day Saints11,500,000
Apostolic/New Apostolic10,000,000
Stone-Campbell ("Restoration Movement")5,400,000
New Thought (Unity, Christian Science, etc.)1,500,000
Brethren (incl. Plymouth)1,500,000
Friends (Quakers)300,000

It is also interesting to see where these Christian families are located, and how the statistics on Christianity compare with those of the other world religions. For another article comparing Christianity with other religions in terms of membership statistics: Christians: Who are They, Where are They This article also includes maps showing where the major Christian groups are located. 

At a still greater level of detail, one need only look at facts on the ground in the United States, where the number of denominations continues to proliferate with some groups growing rapidly, while others are experiencing rapid decline. 

Bottom line: rather than making steady progress toward Christian unity, as some hoped would happen during the 20th Century, in the 21st Century the wider Christian family is more diverse, and perhaps more divided that ever. The Denominations of North America.

For even greater detail on the families and sub-families of Christianity, as well as a wealth of statistics on all the major religions of the world.


Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.