Non-denominational churches are quickly becoming the largest Protestant Christian group, while mainline denominations are, by and large, declining. According to Russell D. Moore's "Wall Street Journal" article, non-denominational churches rank second in Protestantism in the United States and are sure to soon overtake the Southern Baptist Convention. This trend is not without pitfalls. While there are no ways of creating a broad generalization covering every church group, it is safe to say that there are substantial differences between these two groups.
According to Acts 14:23, Acts 20:17, 1 Timothy 4:14, 1 Timothy 5:17, and James 5:14, a church should be led by a plurality of typically male elders. While this is controversial, it has traditionally been the case in most Baptist churches throughout their history to have either male pastors or a group of male elders occupy leadership. Non-denominational churches vary widely in this area. Typical non-denominational churches are often pastor-led as opposed to elder-led. They would also be much more likely to allow female pastors and elders than Baptist churches. Flexibility in structure is viewed by many as an advantage to the non-denominational group, especially as they grow.
Baptist churches, especially in the Southern Baptist denomination, tend toward a more uniform, almost "branded" structure. Much like walking into a standard McDonald's restaurant, walking into a Southern Baptist church in any part of the country you will find similarities in realms of order of worship, length of service, look and feel of the church and sermon length. While this trend, especially among more seeker-sensitive (unbeliever/visitor-oriented), casual Baptist churches is rapidly changing, it is safe to generalize some similarities. By definition, non-denominational churches defy characterization in the area of worship. Many have adopted charismatic or seeker-sensitive models, while some have become more introverted and less visitor-focused. These characteristics vary from church to church.
Most Baptist denominations have a very specific faith statement. The Southern Baptist Convention has the Baptist Faith and Message as a general guideline and has state and national oversight conventions to work toward unity and accountability. Non-denominational churches will typically have their own faith statements, often tailored by founding members or its head pastor. This flexibility can make the group more adaptive to culture but, with no oversight body, can lead to doctrinal problems.
Economy of Scale
Baptist churches typically enjoy an economy of scale. They, as a large, corporate group, have tremendous buying power when it comes to producing literature or sending missionaries. Non-denominational churches do not enjoy this luxury, although groups of these churches often pool their resources to improve in this realm.
Baptist churches have a general tradition. While this varies within the domination and from church to church, generally Baptist churches are viewed as conservative. This tradition may also include some negative baggage, such as the early Southern Baptist Convention's support of slavery in breaking from the Northern Baptist denomination. Non-denomination churches typically build tradition locally or regionally, based on individual "performance" in serving their community and managing a sound congregation of growing believers. The success in this realm often determines whether the church survives.