In considering our name, we need to consider our philosophy of church growth. In the last article, I talked about how a name attracts people who already know what it means, and repels people who don’t, or at least repels people who have a certain conception of what it means.
I wonder if part of the problem here is an underlying belief that churches are built (at least in part) by trading sheep, so when someone dissatisfied with the Baptist church down the road starts looking, let’s have “Baptist” in our name so they will come to us. If we don’t have “Baptist” in the name, they may go looking somewhere else. (I am not just speaking hypothetically here. This statement has actually been made before.)
It is a view that may have merit, but there are some concerns. First, the lesser concern is this: If they are dissatisfied down there, what will they be two years from now at our church? Maybe fine. And maybe not.
The greater concern, in my mind, is this: What about the people who are unchurched? Why should we be more concerned with dissatisfied believers than with unconverted people?
I know there is some debate about how much the church should be sensitive to unbelievers in our community.
The truth is that I want unbelievers coming to our church, and not just once, but week after week. I believe in the converting power of the gospel consistently preached. I believe that if we expose people to the clearly taught word of God week after week, it will have an effect. And if some unbeliever will come to our church for six consecutive months, I will take my chances with that because I know that over six months, they are going to hear the gospel preached week after week as the Scripture is preached both to believers and unbelievers. That doesn’t mean I design services for unbelievers. It means that I expect unbelievers are going to be there, and I am going to address them at some point (or usually at several points) during the service.
When we are considering our community, we need ask the question, Are people, unbelievers particularly, more likely to visit our church if it does not have the name “Baptist” in the church name?
If the answer is Yes, then we should strongly consider that in establishing or changing the name of the church.
Some people charge that removing a label such as “Baptist” is a matter of honesty and integrity, like we are hiding who we really are in order to get people to come in. I don’t think this is necessarily true since there are a lot of things about our churches that do not show up on our signs, things that are part of our core identity.
For instance we are committed to the inerrancy and complete authority of the Bible as God’s revelation. That means, among other things, that we are cessationists who use a modern version. This commitment is, in fact, prior to our Baptist commitment simply because being Baptist arises out of being committed to the Scriptures. Yet nowhere in our name is that commitment or its implications held out.
By not having “ICABGRACWUMV” on our sign, are we hiding who we are in an attempt to get people in? Hardly. Yet when someone comes to our church, that is exactly what they will hear. And it is what they will see in our doctrinal statement.
The fact is that when someone comes to our church, they are coming to a Baptist church regardless of what’s on the sign. And they are going to hear and see the gospel regardless of what’s on the sign. And if they come long enough, they are going to be taught Baptist polity and doctrine as the Scriptures are unfolded.
Having a label, or not having a label, won’t change any of that for us.
And having a label, or not having a label, won’t change anything else either. So if you have bad preaching, or bad breath, or unfriendly people, or bad music, or a dirty and smelly facility, it will all be the same.
So before changing your name, try to figure out what the actual problem is at your church.
In conclusions, each church should think carefully before removing (or adding) a denominational label to their church name. There are a host of factors to be considered, such as community, area churches, strength of church tradition, whether or not the label is actually a barrier, etc. And the only way you can assess these things is by careful thought and study.
A pastor and the leadership team of the church must work very carefully through these issues before dropping a denominational label. It may be a good thing to remove a label, but it should not be entered into hastily.
If you have denominational commitments, then don’t be afraid to own them. You don’t have to do it in a sign, and in fact, it may be wise not to. But your guiding documents should clearly state what you are, as should your new members’ orientation or your membership classes.