By Charles Wood
Used with Permission
Reading even a relatively small list of church names today can produce some entertainment. They range all the way from the very traditional to some that hardly seem to connect with the idea of church at all. I was no longer pastor but still a member when the last church of which I was pastor decided to drop the word “Baptist” from its title. There was a specific reason – the word “Baptist” tends to be anathema among Catholics, and the church was reaching a large number of Notre Dame students at the time. Many parents were not at all pleased that their kids, that they sent off to secure a top-flight Catholic education, were involved in the program or ministry of a Baptist church. So the church caved to cultural pressure and made the name less objectionable to parents, right? Not really. There was just a decision made that the name “Baptist” was not used in connection with the local church in the New Testament and therefore was not Biblically commanded or demanded. I favored the change because I felt that winning lost people to Christ was more important than hanging on to a historic name. At the time, absolutely nothing changed other than the name. I currently have virtually no contact with that church so really have no idea if that last statement (that nothing has changed) is still true.
The previous paragraph indicates on careful reading that there may be very valid reasons for changing a church name, and there might also be ulterior motives involved. Whichever may be the case, I think the basic conclusion I am going to express is unaffected. We are being told, however, by some that a name change is absolutely necessary in order to reach a particular community or constituency. It is declared that even the word “church” is anathema to many and thus must be dropped.
It is especially insisted that ministries located in big city, cosmopolitan areas must do something about the name if they are ever to reach the “sharp, highly educated, upwardly mobile” younger people in those “super suburban” places. Well, could there be a much more cosmopolitan place than Washington, D. C.? Yet there we have Capitol Hill Baptist Church, National Community Church, and McLean Bible Church all doing quite nicely, thank you. (One would think that the McLean church would be “double dead” with both the words “Bible” and “Church” in their titles). In a major educational center, there is “Mosaic,” and even in relatively conservative Grand Rapids, MI there is “Mars Hill.”
Reading the rest of the list is an exercise in seeking to understand the multi-faceted directions in which creative Christian minds might flow. Actually, there are some church names (which I will not name because that is not in accord with the purposes of my article) that defied my comprehension. I couldn’t see any connection with church whatever in the name. That may be the reasons for some of the changes: maybe they’ll come if they don’t know where it is that they are going.
Now, back to the question that heads this article: “What’s in a Name?” The answer: probably nothing. Before you rush to change the name or find something really “far out” to name your church plant, take a look around. Churches with all kinds of names are flourishing; churches with all kinds of names are struggling to stay afloat. The name may mean a little bit, but I’m not convinced it matters for a whole lot. Better go back to Swindoll’s four essentials; they are far more likely to make a difference than some conventional or esoteric name. [By- the-way, I think someone already has the record when it comes to church names: The Church of God of Fire Baptized Holiness and Mission Prophecy, the actual name of a church in the town where I went to college sixty years ago.]
This article was taken from today’s Woodchuck’s Den, available free of charge from firstname.lastname@example.org. I read this column quite frequently and would encourage you to as well.