There have been a spate of articles recently about church names...mostly Baptist churches. A church planter friend of mine surveyed people on the street about the name for the plant. Oddly enough, a name with "Baptist" in it did very well. So he began to ask people why they liked Baptist in the name. "That way," people said, "we'll be warned." OUCH! Note the bold section on the former ABC of the West.
What's in a Church Name?
By Lillian Kwon
Christian Post Reporter
Sun, Dec. 10 2006 08:05 AM ET
Some evangelicals believe the drop of denominational labels from church names is a growing trend today. Others don't really take note of it since it has gone on for more than a decade. Either way, both groups say denominational titles are insignificant when it comes down to the bottom line of the church's mission.
Churches Drop 'Baptist' Label
(December 04, 2006)
The Rev. David Pickney pastors a nondenominational congregation of about 160 people in Concord, N.H. He originally planted the church four years ago and called it River Church under the Conservative Baptist Association of America label. After merging with another church, the name changed to River of Grace Church and became non-affiliated. Before that, Pickney had led a Baptist congregation just 15 miles away from his current church. Ten years into his pastorship at Contoocook Baptist Church, the congregation changed its name to Countryside Community Church.
The Baptist church that Pickney grew up in – Epsom Baptist Church – had also ended up dropping its Baptist title and is now called Epsom Bible Church. And just around the neighborhood, First Baptist Church was renamed Centerpoint Church earlier this month. It was only one of at least five other churches in the Concord region that changed their names.
Dropping denominational labels seems like a growing trend today but Pickney's life points to an evangelical movement that was sparked decades ago. Twenty-six years ago, Rick and Kay Warren moved to Southern California where they started a new Baptist church called Saddleback Valley Community Church. "There was a move among Christians in trying to reach the secular community that found denominational labels confusing or frustrating," Kay Warren told The Christian Post. "So we did not put 'Baptist' in the name. We used 'Community' because at the time, that was considered more generic." Being more generic, Warren explained, was telling the community "that we weren't about a denomination. We were about Church."
Brand loyalty has become a thing of the past. Younger generations are no longer following their parents to church or continuing worship in the same church they grew up in."I think people are tired of brand," Pickney commented. "I think they're looking for the authentic thing. They're looking for Jesus, for the authentic gospel, an experience with God, and they don't really care what label it's under."
Still, some people describe Baptists as "stodgy," Pickney said, so he decided to take off the label so as not to be identified in such a way just by name. But for the most part, people are indifferent to the label, especially the people in New Hampshire where less than 10 percent go to any kind of religious church, according to Pickney. "Most of the people we're supposed to be trying to reach really don't care about the label on the church," he said. On a similar note, Warren said denominational names are not that critical. But she and her husband had decided not to include the label and would do the same today in order to attract nonbelievers as well as people that were tired of denominational politics. Saddleback was one of many new church plants that chose to omit affiliation in the church name.
"I think [omitting denominational labels] is more important for new church plants than it is for established churches," said Pastor Lance Claggett, who took pastorship of Countryside Community Church three years after Pickney left. "If I were to be starting a new church in the community, I probably would be less inclined to have a denominational label on the name."
In a unique case, American Baptist Churches USA saw one of its 35 regions rename itself earlier this year. American Baptist Churches of the West was unofficially renamed Growing Healthy Churches in January.According to the executive minister of the region, Paul D. Borden, the name change was "to give churches the option of whether they want to use 'American Baptists' as the group they're identified with or 'GHC.'
"With controversies happening at the national level in different denominations, Borden explained, "some churches find that hurts their ability to do mission at the local level."
Outside the many Baptist denominations, leaving out denominational titles is a continuing trend more so than a growing trend."This was a bigger issue for us 10 years ago than it is now," said Dave Daubert, director for Renewal of Congregations for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. "But we have a significant subset of our churches who still think it's fairly important to leave it (denominational label) out."
Leaving out the label may initially attract the community, but surveys have shown that a large percentage of newcomers come to church on the arm of a friend.The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Louisville, Ky., conducted a U.S. Congregational Life Survey in April 2001 and found that new people are more likely to come if someone invited them with 48 percent saying they go to church because of an invitation.
Claggett highlighted an instance when one fairly new person said she would not have come if she knew Countryside was a Baptist church. When she discovered the church's Baptist affiliation, she was surprised. She continues to attend the church today."If there are people in the community who have a negative impression of what Baptists are, that's one thing to have a negative impression. But each individual local church still has to build its local reputation in the community," noted Claggett."I would ... hope that the reputation of the Church would precede the [denominational label]."