Part One of a Three Part Series
Since many churches are changing their names or considering doing so, it is worth looking at why they do so and whether it is necessary or biblical. Two assumptions lie behind most church re-branding: the idea that denominational affiliation is a detriment to evangelism and the idea that church attendance is somehow equivalent to evangelism.
“Our Denominational Affiliation is a Hindrance to Evangelism”
For whatever reason, many churches think that their denominational affiliation is a hindrance to evangelism. That people in their community have such bad ideas about Baptists/Methodists/Episcopals/You Name It that they would never even consider attending a church with that brand association. This has led to a rise in non-denominational churches and the use of the word community in many church names. Churches with strong ties to their denomination take the name off but continue the affiliation. I even spoke with a pastor who told me he didn’t tell anyone what denomination had funded their church plant because they might get the wrong idea about the church.
I think this is a misguided assumption. In the early 2000’s, the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (or should I say the Southern Community Convention?) commissioned a study on the topic (information I obtained in correspondence with the Illinois Baptist Association, the study is no longer available in print). What they found was that church goers had strong opinions about denominations. So your denominational affiliation has a definite impact on Christians who are looking for a new church. But those who did not attend church had no opinion whatsoever about denominations. They did not care what denomination a church was affiliated with, because they didn’t know much about any of the denominations.
So, denominational affiliation may be a detriment to attracting Christians to your church, but that isn’t evangelism. Denominational affiliation is not a significant factor for a non-Christian to attend a church. The biggest factor for them is who invited them. If you invite them to your church, they might show up. If you don’t, they won’t. And most new Christians choose a church based on who led them to the Lord. They will attend church with that person, mostly regardless of denomination.
So why does this assumption stick around?
First, because people hear anecdotes from their family or friends about negative evaluations of denominations. People are almost always more trusting of a story than a study, and so these hold a lot of power. One negative anecdote can counter ten positives ones. Second, because people have their own negative evaluations of denominations that they project onto others. If I think it, then so must everyone else. Third, because of the rise of post-denominationalism in American Christianity. We are less committed to our denominations, so we hold them with less regard.
Let’s stop thinking that we need to change our name because of our denominational affiliation, and start focusing on living out our denominational distinctives so that people in our communities are drawn to Jesus.
What about you? Let me know your thoughts on denominations and church names.