Monday, November 19, 2007

What's in a name (part 2)

Any time we name a church you are attempting to communicate something about the identity of your church. Most of the time, the name is meant to communicate something to those outside the church body itself. Naming of churches has gone through several stages. Some names are strictly utliltarian. Older church names commonly included only the denomination and the number church they are in a given area. Thus, it is not uncommon to find churches named First Church of the Nazarene, Second United Methodist, Sixth Baptist, and Tenth Presbyterian. I even found a Twenty-eighth Church of Christ. My seminary roommate pastored a church which having had a rather contentious split named itself Friendship Baptist Church #2 (the church has since changed its name).

Other churches were named for their location—named after city, road, landmark. This results in church names such as Dowagiac Christian Center, Rensselaer Community Church, or Worthville Baptist Church. Occasionally locations can result in some interesting church names. For example, Walnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville is now actually on Third Street. There are at least three “Little Hope Baptist” churches in the U.S.; as well as First Baptist Church of Cash, Boring United Methodist Church, Intercourse United Methodist Church, and my personal favorite, Calvin Free Will Baptist Church. Personally, I have dreamed of moving to Michigan to plant the First Baptist Church of Hell :-).

Knowing that names communicate, some churches include a word that relates to the gospel message. Thus, you find names such as Grace, Faith, Calvary, etc. Newer churches choose trendy names which communicate both their “post-modern” flavor and something of their core values in the name: Sojourn, Mosaic, Discovery, Journey, etc. Of course you don’t have to be a trendy post-modern church to include a core value in your name. Churches in my home state include Friendship Baptist, Community Fellowship, and of course, Greater-Come-As-You-Are-Baptist-Church. I would submit that some churches try to communicate too much in their name. Consider the following (I’m not making these up): Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God of the Americas, Restoration Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith, African Church of God (Yahweh) Messianic Assembly of The Kingdom of God, and my favorite, A.B.B.A.'s (Adopted into the Beloved and Blessed Abundantly) House Church of God of Prophecy. You ask what’s in a name? Sometimes a whole lot!

Anyway, the point of all this, if there is one, is to say, that there a lot of possibilities in choosing a name and denominational identity is only one of them.


-- Todd

Saturday, November 3, 2007

What's in a name?

There is a perennial debate among North American church planters as whether or not new churches should include a denominational labels (in my case “Baptist”) in their name. Larry Baker (Kentucky Baptist church planting strategist) has offered a two recent posts on the issue and the comments to his post are as informative and helpful as the post itself. Here are a few points I would like to offer for consideration on the issue of leaving “Baptist” out of the church name. (In my next post I will offer points to consider when choosing a name.)

1. It is wrong to be intentionally deceptive. If the purpose of leaving a denominational title out of your name is a kind of “bait and switch” technique, then there is an ethical problem here. I would submit, however, that the overwhelming majority of church planters have no intention to make people think that they are something they are not, nor hide their denominational affiliation.

2. You cannot communicate everything through a name. Names, generally speaking, are short labels. With the exception of those churches with obnoxiously long names, church names tend to be 2-4 words in length. There is a limit to what you can communicate in four words or less. Including “Baptist” in a church name communicates something, but you cannot communicate what “Baptist” means. Many people are unclear what the word “Baptist” really means so that in many cases having the word in the name does not communicate anything.

3. Omission is not necessarily deception. Again, unless your name is very long, you cannot include everything in a name. The question is, what do you include and what do you leave out to communicate a different way? Are you deceiving people if you do not include everything here? Is it deception for a Southern Baptist Church to leave “Southern” out of their name? Must every distinctive of your church be included in the church name: “First Southern Inerrantist Exclusivist 7-Day Creation Contemporary Music Small Groups instead of Sunday School 3.5 point Calvinist Preach out of the NIV Serve Communion Once a Month Southern Baptist Church”. All of these are something someone might want to know. Not all of these belong in a church name. Who decided that denominational affiliation was the most important thing about a church?

4. There are other ways to communicate denomination than the name. A few examples I’ve seen include literature tables, visitor information packets, denominational missions posters, membership class, church website, etc. The most common way, perhaps, is to answer the questions of those who ask. In my first church plant, rightly or wrongly, we did not include “Baptist” in our name. We did communicate our Baptist identity in other ways and most people who wanted to know simply asked. I’ve visited other Baptist churches where you had to do extensive detective work to discover whether they were Southern, American, General, Independent, or something else. Each church must find its own way to communicate what is important and distinctive about their congregation—including denominational affiliation.

5. There are much better measures of denominational loyalty than the name of the church. “Baptist” in the name doth not a loyal Southern Baptist make. I would humbly submit that loyalty to your denomination has much more to do with involvement than the name of your church. Much more important, in my opinion, are missions giving and associational involvement. Even more important is commitment to the Great Commission.

Generally speaking, I am not highly concerned whether or not a church includes denominational identity in their name. I offer these points to suggest that we do not judge a church or church planter by their name alone.

You comments are welcome.