3 Baptist Church Denominations: A Comprehensive Comparison Guide

3 Baptist Church Denominations: A Comprehensive Comparison Guide

Are you interested in checking out a Baptist church?  Are there a few in your area and you wonder how they compare?  Do you know someone that attends this type of church?  Would you like to improve your understanding of this denomination*?  

This article explains the Baptist religion and three of their bigger churches.  You will learn about origins, beliefs, and what to expect at a Sunday service. If you are considering visiting a Baptist church, or you’re just curious about the denomination, this comparison guide will help you gain a better understanding of some options.

Related:  Which Christian Denomination is Right for Me? An Easy Comparison Guide

As you consider the similarities and differences between churches, you would do well to remember a quote attributed to various authors: “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”  As Christians, we are all a part of one universal Church and are charged with the responsibility of unity and love amid diversity.

Related:  3 Essential Beliefs all Christian Churches Share

One of the first churches I attended was Baptist.  I remember it fondly as a place where I, as a young adult going to church alone, felt included and cared for by many of the congregants.  It had a close-knit family feel and, while I was hurt by a couple of people, most everyone in that small church helped me learn to trust God and people.

What is the Baptist Denomination?

Baptists believe, as do other Christian denominations, that a person becomes a Christian by receiving forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross; and that they receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who helps them live out their faith.  

Related:  How to Become a Christian in 2 Life-Saving Steps

What differentiates the Baptist faith from some others is how baptism, one of the main sacraments of Christianity, is practiced.  There are two schools of thought: "infant baptism" where the decision to be baptized is made for the individual, and "believers baptism" where the decision to be baptized is self-directed according to a personal choice to believe and follow God.      

Baptists, like many other Protestant denominations, ascribe to believers baptism.  [You can read more about baptism in Luke 3.]

Related:  How to Tell if Baptism is Right for You

A second distinction is that they believe every congregation should be autonomous - each church governs itself through a variety of structures that can include pastors, deacons, boards, and congregational voting.  Therefore, rather than being ruling bodies over individual congregations, Baptist denominations are associations that have joined together for the purpose of working toward a common goal.  By partnering, they can have a larger impact in efforts like missions, humanitarianism, and politics.

3 of the Biggest Baptist Churches

(in historical order)

 

American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA)

Origin:  The ABCUSA began in 1845 as a direct response to the issue of slavery.  Formerly, baptist congregations organized in 1814 (Triennial Convention) for the purpose of raising money to send missionaries worldwide.  Then, in the mid 1800s, a dispute arose between the Northeastern and Southeastern churches as to whether slavery is acceptable.  The Southern states split from the Triennial Convention to become the Southern Baptist Convention (below); and later, the Triennial Convention renamed itself - eventially becoming the ABCUSA.   

Main Distinctions:  In regard to social issues, they tend to be more liberal and more involved with other denominations. They are members of the Baptist World Alliance.  They are also members of the World Council of Churches, whose main goal is to be a visible representation of inter-church unity even when orthodox beliefs don't align.  

Demographics:  The ABCUSA website [accessed 6 Sept. 2023] states there are approximately 1.3 million members over 5,000 congregations, one-tenth the size of the SBC (below).  Though congregations can be found throughout the USA, they are more prevalent in the northern states.

Age Race * Education Annual Household Income Political Affiliation

59% Age 30-64

18% Age 18-29

73% White

10% Black

11% Latino

17% Less than High School Degree

12% College Degree

48% Less than $30,000

10% $100,000 or More

50% Republican

34% Democrat

Pew Research Center. Accessed 4 Sept. 2023.  *Race statistical data varied depending on the site. I used Wikipedia because itis open to input from users.  Read here for or a response from ABCUSA on the Pew Research Center's 2014 report.
 

Organizational Framework:  Decisions made and positions taken by the general council are communicated to individual churches, and then each church decides via congregational voting what they will adopt.

Factors affecting the General Feel:  ABCUSA services usually follow a predictable set of rituals and congregants' attire tend to be business formal. 

Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)

Origin:  Sadly, the SBC organized in 1845 in response to a decision by the Triennial Convention to formally reject slavery (above).  They have since apologized for their historical involvement on this crime against humanity.  

Main Distinctions:  In regard to social issues, they are conservative and vocal.  They are primarily focused on spreading the Gospel message so that as many people as possible will be converted to Christianity and, thereby receive salvation through Jesus Christ and eternal life.  They are exponentially bigger than any other Baptist association; and they are the largest Protestant denomination.

Demographics:  The SBC website [accessed 3 Sept. 2023] states there are 13.6 million members across 47,000 churches.  The majority of churches are located in the southern states.

Age Race Education Annual Household Income Political Affiliation

66% Age 30-64*

13% Age 18-29* 

*Avg. age of all races combined

85% White

6% Black

3% Latino

19% College Degree

8% Less than High School Degree

35% Less than $30,000*

12% $100,000 or More*

*Avg. age of all races combined

Republican -  White:  71%   Black:  15%

Democrat -    Black:  75%      White:  20%

[Pew Research Center. Accessed 3 Sept. 2023]
 

Organizational Framework:  Like the ABCUSA, they are a cooperation of like-minded churches who each are autonomous; they do not enforce rules or provide discipline to individual congregations.  They will not, however, allow any church to remain a member of SBC that condones homosexuality, racial discrimination, or sexual abuse.

Factors affecting the General Feel:  SBC worship services are less formal than many other denominations.  The music is often modern and attire casual.  

National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (NBCUSA)

Origin:  The NBCUSA incorporated in 1895 when three conventions, going back as early as 1880, merged.  (The three conventions were:  Baptist Foreign Mission Convention, National Baptist Convention of America, and National Baptist Education Convention.)  Their website reports they are the "nation's oldest and largest African American religious convention."

Main Distinctions:  One of their primary purposes is to promote Christian education; and they do this through their Sunday School Publishing Board, one of the largest African-American owned publishing companies in the USA, and the American Baptist College which, interestingly, was started in partnership with the SBC.  Like the ABCUSA, they are members of the Baptist World Alliance and the World Council of Churches (above).  They are also very active in social issues, like affordable housing, voting, criminal justice, and disaster relief.

Demographics:  The NBCUSA website [accessed 8 Sept. 2023] states there are around 7.5 million members.

Age Race Education Annual Household Income Party Affiliation

66% Age 30-64

11% Age 18-29

Information on the racial makeup of congregations was not found but it may be helpful to know that more than 25% of African Americans are members of the NBCUSA

19% College Degree

14% Less than High School Degree

48% Less than $30,000

9% $100,000 or More

87% Democrat

5% Republican

Pew Research Center. Accessed [accessed 8 Sept. 2023]
 

Organizational Framework:  Like the aforementioned conventions, the NBCUSA is an organization of churches uniting for the purpose of maximizing their impact in fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ both locally and throughout the world.

Factors affecting the General Feel:  Musical expressions of worship are soulful and kinetic.  During sermons, congregants enthusiastically interject with acknowledgments of agreement with the preacher.  Attire is business formal

 

Takeaway

Finding the right church for you is important and there are many options!  As you proceed in your search, always ensure the church adheres to the core beliefs of Christianity:  

  1. There is only One God and He is three-in-one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  2. We are saved by grace, not works, only through the death (for the penalty for our sins) and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  3. The Bible is the inspired Word of God.   [Read more about this:  3 Essential Beliefs all Christian Churches Share]

If you are interested in finding a church where believer's baptism by immersion is practiced and congregants are often encouraged to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ by preaching the Gospel and baptizing people, a Baptist church may be a good fit for you.

 

Do you want to learn more about what it means to be a Christian and how to find a church?

Check out these articles:

  1. How to Become a Christian in 2 Life-Saving Steps
  2. How to Tell if Baptism is Right for You
  3. 3 Essential Beliefs all Christian Churches Share
  4. 4 Sects Mistaken as Christian & How they're Unsound
  5. 6 Tips for Choosing the Right Church For You
  6. 4 Reasons to Become a Church Member

 If you live in the Greater Concord, NH area, we’d love for you to come visit us!  Check out service times and where to find us here.  

Or, join us during a livestream from anywhere in the world.

 

Do you have questions?  Comment below or reach out to us.

*Note: Not all groups of churches use the word denomination (i.e., another term used is “cooperative fellowships”).  Because “denomination” is a more widely understood title, I am using it to avoid confusion for anyone unfamiliar with the specific vocabulary a particular church uses to label themselves.  

Also in this Series: 

  1. Which Christian Denomination is Right for Me? An Easy Comparison Guide
  2. 5 Pentecostal Churches: From Historical Root to Modern Practices

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