I have the privilege of serving a wonderful church that has been in the suburban Kansas City area for 175 years called First Baptist Raytown. My family has been here for nearly five years now and it’s been exciting to watch God work. This year was a pivotal moment for us as we became one church in two locations. We have merged with another church, in nearby Lee’s Summit, Missouri, which will become our first satellite campus.
So this exciting venture leaves us with a very real dilemma? What do we call ourselves now? We can’t be First Baptist Raytown in Lee’s Summit. And we’ve been advised countless times not to use two different names for our two locations as it 1) doesn’t unify us as one church, and 2) it creates confusion among those we’re trying to reach. (You would never find a business calling itself one name in one location and a completely different name in another location. That’s what you call a marketing disaster!)
If your church ever navigates through a similar process, you may have to wrestle with this dilemma. Do we keep our denominational affiliation in our name? In our case, would we keep “Baptist” in our church’s new name? I believe the short answer is: It depends. It depends mainly on that church’s target audience of who they are trying to reach.
Now I’ve personally been on both sides of this debate. You can probably find old sermons I preached a decade ago about how churches that are removing “Baptist” from their name are trying too hard to become “seeker-friendly,” “emergent,” and were diluting their message. But over the years, my opinion has shifted on this issue.
Here are 10 reasons why I believe it’s beneficial, at least in our situation, to not have “Baptist” in our new church name.
10. Our mission is to reach the 85% in the Kansas City metropolitan area who do not go to church.
As far as we can tell, 85% of our community is lost. Because of this, the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has deemed Kansas City as a “Send City.” More dollars and resources for church planting and evangelism are being allocated here and other key cities in the United States more than any other region. So for me, the answer to any church’s question of “Should we keep our denomination in our name?” is simple. It depends on your demographics. If you are in a region of the deep South where the majority of the population attends some church, then having a denominational name might actually help you to grow! There are a lot of church people looking for a church like the one they grew up in. Yet if your predominate mission field is comprised of the unchurched – like Kansas City’s 85% - then your denominational name can actually be problematic. Denominational names were a positive back when the church was speaking to Christians who were looking for a church. But when we are talking about reaching those in a post-Christian era, it can either be a neutral thing at best or it can be a very big barrier at worse.
According to a recent survey, churches with a denominational reference in their name (vs. none) are:
· Three times more likely to be perceived as “formal.”
· Three times more likely to be perceived as “old-fashioned.”
· Almost three times more likely to be perceived as “structured and rigid.”
· The same study showed that the unchurched believe that a church with a denomination in their name would be less welcoming to visitors.
Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Resources for the Southern Baptist Convention, recently conducted a survey to ask people “What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Baptist”? The top responses are as follows:
4.) John the Baptist
11.) Sound theologically
14.) Suits and ties
Here are some responses that just missed the top 15: fighting, inerrancy, business meetings, men only, eternal security, Sunday school, Republican, religious liberty, pre-millennial, choirs, no alcohol, no dancing, and altar calls. Not all of those things are bad, but taken together collectively, it’s a perception that we don’t want to project.
So we have to determine our target audience. If we determine that our mission is to reach more Baptists, then we need to keep Baptist in the name. If our mission is the reach the 85%, then we need to rethink whether or not we should have “Baptist” in the name.
9. Many folks are unlikely to visit a Baptist church if they did not “grow up Baptist.”
I’ve had this conversation play out many times when I’m inviting people to visit our church. Their response oftentimes is, “Well, I didn’t grow up Baptist.” I’m thinking, “Who cares what denomination you grew up? This is an incredible church you need to come visit, regardless of your upbringing.” Yet some folks shy away from a church that is different than the denomination they grew up in, but studies show that the same person will visit a church that is denominationally non-descript.
8. An unchurched person’s “bad experience” in one Baptist church causes them to stereotype all other Baptist churches as the same.
One bad experience in one restaurant will likely cause you to avoid that chain of restaurants for the rest of your life. Church denominations are unfortunately no different. Psychologists refer to this as “cognitive dissonance” where a person may genuinely want to be involved and invested in a local community of believers but their perception of our denomination may actually keep them away.
7. You can still maintain your doctrinal integrity without having a denominational affiliation in your name.
Sometimes those who are most vocal about the name “Baptist” don’t even know what it means to be a Baptist when asked. So what does it mean to be a Baptist?
This is what we teach in Starting Point (our new member class). In addition to teaching every new member about our denominational affiliations (Southern Baptist Convention, Missouri Baptist Convention, and the Blue River-Kansas City Baptist Association), we also teach them the seven basic beliefs and practices that distinguishes us as “B.A.P.T.I.S.T.S.”
· Bible as our sole authority – 2 Timothy 3:15. Our first question when facing any decision is, “What does the Bible say?”
· Autonomy of each local church – Colossians 1:18. Jesus is the head of our church – not any person, group, or religious organization or denomination. Whereas we cooperate and pool our resources together for missions, each church is autonomous. They make their own decisions under God’s leadership and own all of their own assets.
· Priesthood of every believer – 1 Peter 2:9. We believe that every member is to be a minister and that every believer has equal and direct access to God through prayer.
· Tithing – Malachi 3:9-10. We recognize that giving 10% of our income is the minimum standard for giving.
· Immersion baptism – Colossians 2:12. We practice baptism by immersion under water, following the pattern of how Jesus was baptized, and the way the Bible commands.
· Spirit-led living – John 15:5. We believe the only possible way to live the Christian life is by God’s power within us.
· Telling others about Jesus – 1 Peter 3:15. It is the responsibility of every Christian to share the gospel with those with whom God brings us into contact.
We also provide each new member with the SBC’s doctrinal statement: The Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
6. People looking for “Baptist” churches can still find our church!
One of the questions that I received was, “What if a person is new to our area and is looking for a Baptist church to join?” The answer is simple. Our website (both current and future) will have clear access to our statement of beliefs. In that, we will make it clear that we are a Baptist church in affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention and that we adhere to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. We know how to properly use SEO (Search Engine Optimization) so that when someone searches for a “Baptist” church on any Internet search engine, our name will pop up.
Once again, just because we don’t put “Baptist” in the name doesn’t mean that we are hiding something. Let me give you an example. I am very proud of my education, my alma mater, and all my years of post-graduate work. But when I introduce myself to someone for the first time, I never use my title. I would never reach out to shake someone’s hand and introduce myself by saying, “Hi, my name is Doctor Brandon Park.” That just sounds ridiculous. When I meet someone new, I simply say, “Hi, my name is Brandon. It’s great to meet you.”
Now, am I hiding something or being misleading by not using my full title? Of course not. It’s just that the title that conveys my educational background is not necessary at this point for an introduction. It may be informative for them to read about in my bio or to see it on stationery, but it’s not necessary when I’m being introduced to someone new for the very first time. I don’t want “doctor” to be someone’s first impression of me. I want them to know me first as just “Brandon.” Then they may come to get to know my education and experience at a later time.
The name of a church is our first introduction to the community in which we serve. We’re not hiding anything by not having a denominational affiliation in the name. We want them to know first that there’s a God who loves them and a community of people who will love them. They can learn what it means to be a Baptist once they get here.
5. We now live in a post-Christian culture where denominations are becoming increasingly irrelevant.
As a result, Christian culture is moving away from an adherence to denominationalism. Whenever the Church undergoes persecution, rather than focusing on our differences, we focus on what unites us as believers. When Jesus prayed for all of us who would become believers prior to Him going to the cross, He prayed for something three different times in the same chapter. Jesus prayed that all of us “may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (See John 17:11, 21, and 23.)
When the church starts to undergo persecution, we begin to huddle up a little bit closer together. This is the direction that our Christian culture is moving in.
In 2015, ISIS captured 21 Egyptian Christians, lined them up on the shores of Libya, put a knife to their throat, and they asked them one question: “Are you a Christian?” Notice they did not ask, “Are you Methodist? Are you Episcopalian? Or are you Baptist?” They simply asked, “Are you a Christian?” If they answered affirmatively, their head was severed from their body for the whole world to see.
Satan cares nothing about our denominational affiliations. All he cares about is whether or not we bear the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ over our lives. I’m a Christian first and a Baptist second.
4. Statistically, the churches that are growing the fastest and reaching the most unchurched people are those that do not have a denominational affiliation in their name.
When you look at the list of this year’s Top 100 Largest and Fastest-Growing Churches in America, 90% of the churches mentioned on both lists do not have any denominational affiliation in their name. The facts are simple – churches in the 21st Century are more likely to grow and reach more of the unchurched if they do not have a denominational affiliation in their name.
3. The trend in our own denomination (the SBC) is to not use “Baptist” when rebranding our churches or our entities.
· Why is it that The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention is now LifeWay Christian Resources?
· Why is it that out of the thousands of new SBC churches that are being planted in North America, I can’t think of a recent one in the last 20 years that actually has the word “Baptist” in their name?
· Why is it that one of our six SBC seminaries, Golden Gate Theological Seminary in California, has rebranded itself as Gateway Seminary?
· Why is it that the former President of our own denomination rebranded his church Cross Church?
Why this trend? Why this change? Because our leaders want our churches and institutions to be attractive and non-threatening to those whom they’re trying to reach. Depending upon what part of the country you live in, the name “Baptist” can be more of a wall than a bridge.
2. Jesus Christ ought to be the only stumbling block for someone to come to saving faith – not a denominational name.
In the Book of Acts, a church controversy arose in the Church of Jerusalem. Gentiles were being converted to faith in Jesus Christ in record number. Yet some believers (who had been former Pharisees) stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). What was Paul’s response? He said, “my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19). In other words, we should remove any unnecessary barrier that would prevent a person from coming to faith. So if the “Baptist” in my church’s name causes an unbeliever to think of me as a Westboro Baptist Church member holding up a picket sign, then I can live without having the word “Baptist” in my name. I want to say with Paul that I have not put any hindrance towards any man coming to faith in God.
1. The Church is God’s idea; denominations are man’s idea.
I know it’s not politically correct to say this but the whole reason we have denominations in the body of Christ is the result of sin and divisiveness in the church. Denominations didn’t exist until after the Protestant Reformation. Rather than resolving doctrinal differences Biblically, the church kept splintering off into new subgroups of denominations. The New Testament Church had no concept of denominationalism. And as much time as we’ve put into trying the come up with a “nifty” name for our church, the early churches didn’t have that either. They were simply “The Church at Ephesus,” or “The Church at Philippi.” We need to make sure that we don’t make our preference our principle.
With that being said, we will always be a Baptist church that teaches Biblical doctrine. I believe strongly in the mission of the Southern Baptist Convention and we will continue to look for ways to give and to increase our support through the Cooperative Program, the International Mission Board, and the North American Mission Board of the SBC as we move forward into the future.
If your church ever does have to navigate through the complexities of rebranding or a name change, I can assure you that it's much more of a difficult process than you might think that it is. But if that brings you one step closer towards reaching those who are still far from Christ, the pain of change will be worth it in the end.