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.
More from Thom
Why does your research show that Baptist is the most negative denomination label? Thought this for a long time but what are the reasons? I am one and wish to articulate the facts to others.
The overwhelming reason is the perceived negativity and in-fighting of Baptists.
Most recently was the 300 page report from the investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention over sexual abuse and cover-up. There was a growing distrust of “Baptist” when I graduated from seminary in 2010. Since the report dropped yesterday confirming a lot of the allegations I can only imagine the perception of the Southern Baptist (and, sadly, most Baptist) church will only get worse.
As a proud Presbyterian Elder, we see no need to take the word “Presbyterian” out of our name. When folks see the PCUSA denomination, they know who we are and what we stand for. No need to hide our denomination behind some silly moniker like “Sand Hill Church” or “Rock Party Jesus Church.” I have had several friends leave their traditional churches with the lure of the rock and roll, giant screens, coffee bar, pastor in a baseball cap, only to discover that what they thought would be a “cool” place was actually an extremist place where their values were certainly not represented. They returned to places of true faith and Christianity, where Jesus and the bible are central to our worship and “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and “Welcome the stranger, the sojourner, the foreigner “and “Kindness to the poor is like lending to God” are bible directions that we take seriously. No prosperity gospel- ever! Everyone enjoys their favorite type of worship style, but core Christianity is rooted in love, not fear.
I believe that the big downfall of churches and denominations is not names. I am, at least a 6’th generation Baptist. I am now 80 years old and over the past 40 years, as a result of job changes and moving, I was a member of 3 different SBC churches, one of which was a mega church. What I observed with all of these churches was that there was no regular meaningful corporate prayer, instead they depended on human power. In my opinion denominations and churches can come up with clever names, develop mission statements, purpose statements, clever mottos, and every other kind of self-describing words of who they are, but if they don’t have corporate prayer at the top of their list, they are in the ditch of human effort and have totally missed God’s plan! Our greatest fear should not be of decline and failure but of succeeding at things accomplished with human effort. I strongly believe that the two meaningful categories of churches are human dependent natural and God dependent supernatural. Unfortunately, I believe the SBC seminaries are training and teaching students how to do everything but how to pray and depend on the Holy Spirit.
I respectfully disagree with your comment about the SBC seminaries. For example, Dr. Chuck Lawless is both a VP and professor at Southeastern Seminary. His emphasis on prayer and spiritual warfare shapes the entire school. There are other examples as well.
Thanks for your response, that is very good news!
We dropped the denomination from our name when we did a name change years ago but it is very much visible on our website. We feel going from Marysville First Assembly to The Grove Church (street we are on) makes our church more seeker friendly but we often speak of our affiliation with the Northwest Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God – it’s just not our main focus.
A Church name does need to give some indication of it’s orientation to cover both theological and governance alignment particularly when not the only church in the neighbourhood. But no name should be long and clumsy. This does become more difficult when it becomes one formed by the local union of different denominations. In Winchester (England), the name changes were Congregational to United Reformed at the national union of Congregational and Presbyterian Churches 50 years ago (with further national unions to come) then to United with the local union with the Methodists. In Wells, (England) Congregational and Baptist Churches united locally (back in 1917!) to form the United Church so no change was needed with the formation of the U.R.C. In France, the Eglise Reformee (ERF) united nationally with Presbyterian Church to form the Eglise Protestante Unie de France (EPUF) in recent years. As the two Churches existed largely in separate areas of France, I doubt if there were many name changes.
In a Biblically illiterate world and an even more Church history illiterate world the denominational name is irrelevant. In the Boomer generations, perhaps some had a sense of the difference between a Methodist, Baptist, and a Presbyterian… but that is not the case today. Theological explanations should be handled once someone walks in the doors and indicates a desire to become a part of the fellowship. Denominations are collapsing and Associations are ascending. Autonomy is the most predominant. Even in denominations that allow autonomy, the branding a given denomination may have at the moment may negatively impact the local Church unjustly.
Good insights, Jim.
Sadly, I think the growth of autonomy has impacted a lot of human interactions.
My anecdotal evidence is “autonomy” has led to the growth of the “Nones” because those who identify as such, see personal expression as a cornerstone of their faith. Like most churches, institutional identity is rooted in the denomination and polity of the denomination. Until that identity shifts principally to being followers of Christ away from dogmatic statements, real change is difficult.
I am 58, with 20+ years as a Pastor. I recently removed myself from my second church for a variety of reasons. I had been there a little over two years, so pretty much the whole run was under Covid. One of my reasons was vehement resistance to change — and change — among core leaders/influencers. I’ve since been engaged in a frustrating search for our next chapter, and I find myself increasingly tempted to steer around churches with “Evangelical,” “Baptist,” and even “Christian” in the name. I fear there is growing baggage that comes loaded into those words, and what were once identifying words are now barriers.
I would not hesitate to identify as “Christian” one way or another. That label has a clear biblical foundation.
We took Baptist out of our name, because the denominational name was regularly the reason that people would not accept an invitation to our church. When we invite people to our membership class, many are surprised at how we did not meet their preconceived stereotype. Often, people will stay and even accept our membership expectations, while being thankful of our membership commitments to them. However, it must be acknowledged for us in the north: when some people learn we are Southern Baptist, they do not want to be associated with us. It stings to be rejected, but we strongly believe we need to disclose who we are as a matter of integrity.
Thank you, John.
I was born and raised in a denomination that is currently over 90 years old (The Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim & Seraphim) founded by St. Moses Orimolade Tunolase, in Nigeria. It’s one of the early indigenous churches founded in the 1930s and has branches in Africa, Europe, North America, and Asia. It has strict doctrines which are primarily an offshoot of the Old Testament and Catholic doctrines. Worships with garments. But believes strongly that Jesus is the head of the church.
These doctrines and worship practices has kept the church going for several years but with so many issues that some members and other Christians still grapple with.
Christ’s message to the world should drive our service to God and fellow human beings. I doubt it if God’s ruler of judgement will be based on our denomination blend.
However, many believers in time past and now met Christ through the platforms of many of these denomination. I strongly believe that if Christ is preached, denominational appearance will fade. But if the culture of promoting a denomination above its assignment of the great commandment and the great commission, the 8 issues shared by Thom is a tip of the iceberg.
Paul’s admonition to Timothy still stands strong today to break the walls of denomination and church nomenclatures: “Be an example of a true believer…”. This must be our message from the pulpit, on the road, in our offices, businesses etc…
Good word, Joel.
The most common objection to dropping the label is a concern of misleading people….. I USED to really think this… if people are becoming more like Christ, WHY does the NAME matter?
People are leaving the church in the US because they see the hypocrisy of people who sing Jesus Loves Me but say Jesus hates you. They see people who illegally support politicians openly in their churches—politicians who have the lowest moral standards and would never be welcomed for any reason other than the power they hold. They see church members who despise and work against the least, the last, and the lost, who cover up their own sins against their own members. They aren’t rejecting Jesus, they are rejecting Christians because they see how so many have chosen to follow empire instead of Christ, who have chosen judgment instead of compassion, who want religious freedom to coerce everyone else to follow their very narrow interpretation of Christian scriptures, eliminating freedoms of others to make their own health care decisions, or to receive the most up to-date information in school, or even read the books they want to read. Not one word in the Bible condones such behavior.
And those people leaving in droves are painting ALL Christians with the same brush.
Changing your name will not change your heart. Only honest confession, public repentance and outwardly visible work toward change will convince people to come to Christ.
They see you! Surely Jesus weeps.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.” -Romeo and Juliet
The issue with names of churches , to me, is an attempt to separate themselves from the controversies that surround the denominations themselves. Whether it is the United Methodists, Southern Baptists, or any other convention or conference; the local churches (in my opinion) are just trying to say, “Hey, we are not like that and do not prescribe to (fill in the blank).”
In today’s age, a church’s doctrinal stance can be posted on Facebook or on their website; thus eliminating the need to justify their doctrine within the name itself. I do like the trend you mentioned with churches naming themselves after the community or neighborhood they serve.
I think that trend will grow, Seth.