"...I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest and are dead." (from Revelation 3:1)
One of my favorite films is "The Apostle" starring Robert Duval. In that film, Duval plays a Holiness minster seeking to do a significant work for God after having committed a serious crime. He founds a small church in a rural Louisiana town. The church has an unusual sign and an unusual name. The sign is an arrow turned upward, surrounded by small white lights. The sign proclaims the church's unique name: "ONE WAY ROAD TO HEAVEN".
There's a big move at present among evangelicals, Pentecostals, and charismatics to change the names of their churches from traditional names to names which are believed to be "more appealing". Many pastors believe the very NAME of a church will either attract or repel potential visitors. I notice it's particularly Baptist and Assemblies of God churches which are changing their names, eager to drop the label "Baptist" or "Assembly of God". The feeling is that the label "Baptist" conjures up images of wild eyed fundamentalists waving their King James Bibles and proclaiming that everybody is going to Hell. And, "Assembly of God" is believed to conjure up the image of Jimmy Swaggart crying or Jim and Tammy Bakker manipulating people to give them money, OR of hysterical holy rollers acting insane.
One MetroWest (i.e. Boston's western suburbs) Baptist church, for instance, changed their name about twenty years ago to "Chapel of the Cross". Just a few years ago, a large MetroWest Assemblies of God church changed their name to "Celebration International Church". (It is not my intent to cast any aspersions against these good churches; but merely to use their name changes as examples.) Such church name changes are happening quite frequently all over America. Ironically, while evangelicals are trying to change names, labels, and images, the theological liberals as well as the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox are sticking to traditional church names. (The fairly liberal "American Baptist" denomination, for example, has no problem calling their churches "Baptist".)
A friend of mine is an active Member of a large church is in sin the process of changing their name from a traditional Protestant church name to a more inclusive, warm, and seemingly less threatening label. (I'd rather not name the specific church here.) He has not been in favor of changing that church's name, but even he admits the new name is attractive and that the church's leadership "has done a good job selling it."
In one sense, church name changes are not totally new. The church I pastored for many years, First Assembly of God of Framingham's ORIGINAL name from its incorporation in 1922 was "Pentecostal Church of Framingham." In 1961, the church's name was legally changed. At THAT time, "First Assembly" was a very popular name in the Assemblies of God. Today, such churches regret that the initials of First Assembly of God are "F.A.G." That name is now very unpopular! There's a big trend now toward using the name "Community Church." Ironically, forty or fifty years ago, a church called "Community Church" was usually a very theologically liberal church. I had an uncle and aunt in those days who attended "Community Church of Boston" which was very liberal. A lot of Assemblies of God churches now use "Community Church" in their names. I'm not necessarily opposed to that, but it honestly seems to me that such churches are trying to find a safe, nonthreatening name. One independent church that I know of dropped "Bible" from their name a few years ago. The church's leaders cited surveys saying people will not attend a church which uses the name "Bible". Conversely, First Baptist Church of Dedham, Massachusetts changed their name to "Fellowship Bible Church" and the new name helped with attendance.
Last Sunday, my wife and I became Members at Bread of Life Assembly of God in Westminster, Massachusetts. It's fifty miles from where we live in Webster so it's a long commute, but it's definitely the right church for us at this time. Bread of Life runs over 250 in attendance and is growing. The services are dynamic. The church's leaders have a lot of vision and a lot of faith. Many of the church's people are under age 45. There are a lot of children, teens, and young adults. (Jesus is called the "Bread of Life" in John's Gospel.) "Bread of Life Assembly of God" is a very traditional and some would say potentially offensive name, but it hasn't seemed to stop the number of people visiting the church, or "getting saved", or Baptized in the Holy Spirit, or "plugged in" to serving the Lord in greater capacities.
Parachuch organizations in the evangelical and Pentecostal realm are also changing their names. About twelve years ago, "Evangelistic Association of New England" became "Vision New England." Honestly, I've always thought "Vision New England" sounds like an optical supply company! Radio Bible Class became "RBC Ministries". Bible Institute of Los Angeles became "BIOLA".
Honestly, there WERE some problems with our old church's name "First Assembly of God of Framingham." Except for me, almost NO ONE called it that. Everyone called it "Framingham Assembly of God." A lot of our people wrote their contribution checks to "Framingham Assembly of God." I had toyed with the idea of possibly changing the church's name, but of course that's a moot point now because the church has closed.
What do YOU think? Would you NOT attend a church if it had "Bible" in its name? Do the labels "Baptist" or "Assembly of God" scare you? Do you find "Community Church" an attractive name? Do you think a church's name matters?
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