What does the “free” mean in Evangelical Free Church?
The term “Free” has two meanings.
First, in reference to history, it refers to the fact that in Europe, the Free Church was free from the state church control.
Second, in reference to theology, it refers to our local church polity in that each local church is autonomous, i.e. free from ecclesiastical and hierarchical control.
Here is how this is explained in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America (261):
Though not included among our central doctrinal convictions, the Evangelical Free Church of America is congregational. That is, Evangelical Free churches are autonomous and self-governing. [The Articles of Incorporation of the Evangelical Free Church mandate that the EFCA “shall be an association and fellowship of autonomous but interdependent congregations of like faith and congregational government” (II.A.)] We hold this as an integral part of our history and tradition, and on the basis of our understanding of biblical teaching.