Is there any kind of easy to follow chart hat lays out he various Christian denominations, and the distinctive aspects of what they believe that differentiate them from each other?
From the same place, for beliefs rather than practices. A more detailed chart would make a good project our various religious Dopers.
There is also Adherents.com
Neither of those is exactly complete, though the second is better than the first in terms of broadness. For example, only the second mentions the Stone-Campbell Restoration movement, and then only briefly. I suppose it depends on how specific you’re wanting to get: If it’s alright to lump Adventists, Anabaptists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Reformed churches and Restoration congregations under “Protestant,” then the provided links will do.
Wikipedia has articles on Christian denominations and Christian movements, and fairly accurately describes the brand of Christianity I was raised in (so I assume if it got mine mostly right, it probably got the others mostly right as well), so perhaps it can help.
(standard warnings against Wikipedia’s accuracy apply, of course)
Ok, reviewing the link I guess those aren’t all lumped under “Protestant.” Still, I’m pretty sure there are various “flavors” of Baptist, Methodist, and maybe others, and as I said, the Restoration Movement doesn’t seem to be represented.
I can’t vouch for the 2006 edition, since the most recent one I own is for 2003, but The World Almanac and Book of Facts has had a chart in every edition I’ve had called “Major Christian Denominations and How They Differ,” which covers the differences between the Baptists, Church of Christ (Disciples), Episcopalians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Latter-Day Saints, Lutherans, Methodists, Orthodox, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and United Church of Christ.
The chart uses the following categories for comparison: Origins; Organization; Authority; Special Rites; Practice; Ethics; Doctrine; Other.
This is, AFAIK, the standard reference book for denominations in the US. It gives (mostly) short synopses of information about each denomination, and tends to focus on history and numbers, with some mention of “official” of traditional theological stances. That said, it is very readable and easily accessible, and easily the most comprehensive book on the subject in terms of breadth, even if it sacrifices depth.
Most churches aren’t defined by their beliefs, however, or even by their official practices, and you don’t really learn what attending a given church is like by studying those things, any more than you learn what it it like to live in a country by studying its history and politics. The culture is far more important and elusive.
Nevertheless, this an area I know something about, and if I get the time, I might try to hammer something together. That’s if someone else doesn’t get to it first.
Being a bemused owner of Mead’s Handbook, I have to second Alan Smithee. It covers all manner of tiny sects and gives their origins. (Seems like there is some sort of “ancestry chart” in it, but I’m in the middle of moving and my copy is not at hand.) Any decent library should have a copy.