Dropping the Denominational Label from the Church Name: 8 Post-COVID Trends

Our team at Church Answers is following closely the trend of churches dropping the denominational label in their name in the post-COVID era. Though it is by no means a new trend, we do think it is good to see where the issue lies today. Indeed, it is a topic of frequent discussion in our community at Church Answers.

Our research is subjective at this point, but we do think it reflects the reality of what many church leaders are thinking. Here are the eight most common issues discussed today on this topic:

1. More leaders than ever are considering dropping the label. The post-COVID world for church leaders has been a time of introspection and evaluation. Though dropping the denominational label is not at the top of their priorities, it is certainly an issue discussed more often than anytime I can recall.

2. Leaders who are considering making the change say there is less resistance to it than in the pre-COVID era. A lot of church members know that change must take place in their churches. In this post-COVID era, there is a level of receptivity to change in general.

3. “Baptist” is still mentioned as the most negative denominational label. When we did an objective study of this issue several years ago, the results were the same. Apparently, the negative connotation has deepened.

4. The most common objection to dropping the label is a concern of misleading people. Indeed, a number of church leaders use the word “deceptive” or the phrase “bait and switch” when they voice their opposition.

5. The second most common objection is that the denominational label identifies the church’s doctrines. These leaders say that transparency of doctrine in a church is vitally important, and that the church name best reflects that transparency.

6. The third most common objection is that changing the church name can be perceived to be a quick fix to the church’s problems and challenges. A pastor in the Church Answers community called it “putting lipstick on a pig.” Most churches, he argued, have bigger problems than their names.

7. A number of church leaders see the denominational label and denominations themselves as increasingly irrelevant. They would argue for changing the name because the label has no meaning or, even worse, the label is greatly misunderstood.

8. Some churches are removing the denominational label as a part of a full name change. The fastest-growing trend we see is a new name that best reflects the community or neighborhood in which the church is located. Thus, “First Baptist Church” becomes “The Church at Franklin,” if “Franklin” is the name of the neighborhood or community.

I am interested in your thoughts and perceptions about this issue. I would particularly love to hear the different arguments for or against removing the denominational label.

Let me hear from you.

Posted on May 23, 2022

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • If you’re determined to change name, pick something with “legs” that won’t seem dated in 10 years. Church names with the word “Point” are cliche, as are ones with a “compass” reference.

  • Aaron Heilman says on

    For me, it’s a question of accountability. Non-denominational churches exploded about 20 years ago and then experienced huge fall out when some big-name pastors went off the rails because they did not answer to a larger faith community. Personally, I think we need to think multi-denominationally and work harder at coming together as different denominations as the universal Body of Christ. There are different flavors of God’s grace in each Christian denomination that have value. This attitude from almost every denomination that, “we are the ones that get it right”, is the most damaging and confusing witness to the world trying to make sense of Jesus. I pray that God helps us figure this out, especially in the USA, because it is a huge stumbling block for people seeking God, in my opinion. I believe God is tearing denominational structures down so that His glory will be revealed in a unified way.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Aaron –

      Overall non-denominational churches have not experienced the decline you mentioned. It is likely true in some of the more high-profile non-denominational churches.

  • The church I now attend is by, and large a baptist church but does not have baptist in its name. This church is a relatively new plant. I was pastor of a Baptist church when this start-up began, and it looked like the plant was going to be a Baptist plant with support from the NAMB. However, many local Baptist pastors threatened to pull their support of the local Association unless Baptist was part of the church name. The leadership of the start-up withdrew their association because of the immature attitude of those local churches. Sadly many Baptists I know can not discuss why they are Baptist. These are my experiences regarding the name Baptist in my area. I am one person in one community.

  • Pastor Neil says on

    There are churches within my denomination that have removed the Lutheran name. I also know of a church of a Lutheran church that restored that “Lutheran” name. And here are my thoughts on the practice.
    1) I can see it being an easy move among Baptists. Because lets face it there isn’t much difference between Baptist and non-denominational. Many of the non-denominational churches are Baptists in denial. There are a handful of reformed non-denoms, but it a large portion of the non-denomiantional churches theologically line with the Baptist traditions.
    2) Dropping the denominational name looks like either you are A) Hiding something. B) Ashamed of something. C) Are intentionally deceptive. And for some generational groups, authenticity is important. If you are hiding your denomination, you are losing those authenticity points.
    3) In my tradition, when churches drop the Lutheran name, quite often their theology has already reflected that move.

    The title “Lutheran” doesn’t mean that we follow Martin Luther (as is sometimes accused). It means that we confess to the doctrines which he defended. We confess to baptismal regeneration. We confess that the body and blood is present in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins. Those are two huge doctrinal points. We confess the creeds. That title “Lutheran” tells you what to expect. It also tells you what to expect in the preaching. The sermon will be all about Jesus for you. You will he are the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Churches that have dropped the “Lutheran” name. Have minimized the confessing of the Creeds, practiced open communion, and Not a guarantee that you will hear Law and Gospel preaching.

  • We did a name change in 2019. The church was very traditional in its decor and systems even though it was built in 2007. I came on as Lead Pastor in 2011, by 2013 we began to make a lot of modern changes, decor, worship style and overall flow of service. With those changes we begin to see an influx of young families. The church was about 125 people when we got there in 2011, by 2014 we were at 700 people per Sunday and 3 Sunday morning services and replaced Sunday evening service with small groups that were happening all over town. (Our town is only about 6800 in population) In 2017 we had a vision to start another campus about 25 miles away. As we begin to research we found that pretty much every town had a church named “Cornerstone” so after a year of prayer and “Rebranding strategy” we changed to a name that better reflected our vision, we became “Forward Church” A Non-Denominational church in rural northeast Mississippi. We began holding meetings in a nearby town and then BAM! COVIT 19 hit, we put the vision of the second campus on hold, (It’s still on hold)

  • Tracy Hanning says on

    I don’t see the Catholics changing their name!

  • Many churches do not subscribe to their denomination 100% of the time. Thus, while the name may be somewhat indicative, it is generally not totally accurate. I knew of Baptist churches that seemed more like moderate Methodists. The church of Christ has 50 different versions, and the list goes on. Some churches did try to distance themselves from denominations who went in wrong directions and who could and did run off all the new Christians and members quite quickly.

  • I have been a Baptist since saved at 9. I graduated from Southern seminary and pastored 6 churches before retirement. I can see how our culture is changing. What changes are our seminaries studying? We are a great denomination of churches, missions, and education. I think a change might be warranted, but each entity needs to be sure they are relevant as a New Testament church living out the calling of our Lord. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  • I agree that dropping the denomination name but remaining in the denomination is deceptive. Especially if you aren’t 100% clear in the new member process. I left the SBC in 2008 (or it left me.) I would never consider returning. In our new members class I make it clear that we are truly non denominational as opposed to looking non denominational and in the fine print saying we’re SBC.

  • On the whole, I’ll suggest it’s about time that people of Christ started labelling ourselves as Paul did.

    The denominational label, I’ll suggest, does form an indicator of what we might call “underdoctrines”, and human tribal behaviors, more than doctrines. For instance, I’ve never seen a church’s doctrinal statement include “We have the responsibility to use all monetary, social and/or political power we have to force our doctrines down everyones’ throats all over the world”, and yet this ‘underdoctrine’ is notorious among many Baptists. This is why many are not interested in associating with Baptists, or with Baptist churches. I myself have visited churches not called Baptist, found written self-descriptive literature within, and found myself wondering when I am going to be lambasted or smilingly approached with world-centered coercionist exhortation. There are many similar issues. For instance, “Methodist”, today, seems to mean “rigid unpassionate traditional ritual with constant intracontradictory reference to sinful people named Wesley” to some, and “abandonment of everything the Lord has said in Holy Scripture” to others. Sometimes church-leadership wants to ditch all of that and devote themselves to Christ, while not cutting themselves off from certain persons of those monikers whose input is and has been worthwhile in Christ, and I do sympathize.

    But there is indeed the danger of real bait-and-switch, and equally, the appearance of the bait-and-switch. I’ll think either of these dangers is better than encouraging the proud [insert denominational name here]. Denomination-pride helps not. But you’re right, name-change can be a smokescreen for internal issues. When the direction towards nondenominationalism, either in face or in heart, is not unanimous or very close, there shall be tygers, and not nice ones.

    I will also suggest that it is a troubling self-exaltation, for a church to label and/or claim itself as “the” church in a town or a city. The history of the “Local Church” movement ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_churches_(affiliation) ) is indicative. And I’d dislike being part of “The Church at 29th & Tecumseh Rd” if another church of worship of the Lord Jesus as recorded in the New Testament, began a-building across the intersection.

    I’ll opine, though, that the labels are not misunderstood: they just reveal things about churches, that the church-members have been trying to hide from themselves for generations. Denominational names are irrelevant…but only in the very face of the Lord Jesus, His Very Words, as He quotes Himself saying into the New Testament. When trying to distinguish human tribes which call themselves Christian, names are very important, even though they can be indicative of faces more than hearts.

  • Anonymous says on

    Dr. Rainer,

    This is a pretty hairy topic and I actually went to an SBC church that dropped the “Baptist” from its name. There were far deeper problems going on than that, but I get why they did that despite it being to no avail.

    Ironically, I applied for a position at what I thought was an SBC church, but was actually IFB. Yikes! Talk about awkward given the history of the IFB sect.

    I’m not much for the whole denomination thing, but I do believe doctrinally, SBC is the closest to what the Scripture holds to be truth. I think there is so much hurt that comes from specific denominations that it’s a huge blocker for those wounded by the church in the past. For me, if the doctrine is sound and biblically and theologically sound, the denomination name shouldn’t matter. The keyword is “sound.”

  • Rob Dale says on

    I wonder if a more effective plan would be to drop the denomination instead of just the name. Of your church’s beliefs and functions are based on the denomination – then their name should probably remain.

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