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
I am a lifetime Christian. My dad was a pastor, and so I have literally never not been in church. That said, for me denominational labels have essentially served as a way for me to weed out churches that I know would not be a fit for my family based on doctrine. As we have moved and we have needed to find a new church home, when I see particular denominations – I knew to “keep scrolling”. However, new believers would likely not have the same biases so I can see why labels would be off putting or add a layer of confusion. All of that said, I spent the bulk of my life in spirit filled Charismatic churches, and recently visited one labeled “assembly of God” and was quite impressed. The label had caused me to skip it for quite some time. Only after reading all of the ministries they offer, their beliefs, and reviewing online sermons did I decide to visit anyway.
I teach a foundation class for new members. I teach that you must be saved first and then Worship God in a denomination or non-denominational setting. We are Missionary Baptist here and I’m fine with that,
Dr. Pierre Crawford
NAME ON CHURCH.SIGN?.. THE REAL ISSUES… WE DON’T TRUST GOD. (..WHY)… WE DON”T READ THE WORD, PRAY ENOUGH, WE HAVE TOO (MANY THINGS AVAILABLE TO DO INSTEAD OF CHURCH, AND SUNDAY SCHOOL. …GROWING UP WE WERE NOT TO GO TO MOVIES SUNDAY EVE..
NO SUNDAY NIGHT CHURCH MUCH. NOW..TOO MANY PEOPLE TO RUN CHURCH OR WANT TO. ..(.THE CHURCH JESUS MADE ) PROBLEM WITH KNOWING HOW (10 %) REQUIRED TO GIVE MONEY AND WHY, HOW TO SUPPORT THE CHURCH..LACK OF LEADERS…. AND OWN IT GOES
Thanks, Charles. When you type in all caps, it indicates you are shouting. I hope that’s not the case.
With the studies that have come out on worldview lately from the Barna group, and then reading through this, I’m not convinced that the people in the pew:
1. Know the doctrine of the denomination.
2. Care about the doctrine of the denomination.
The Lord has spent the last 4 years tearing down my doctrine and theology and rebuilding it from the foundation up and as a result, I’ve taken the congregation through it too. Technically, I’m in a Restoration Movement church that left the Disciples of Christ denomination about 25 years ago or so because we differed on doctrine and theology, and even now, my theology doesn’t line up with Restoration Movement anymore. I’m very much one of the outcasts in our denomination. Personally, I’m glad to see denominationalism disappear. I’m more concerned about doctrine and theology being of a Biblical Worldview because if we’re totally honest, we either have a Biblical Worldview or we don’t. Denominationalism is on its way out from what I’ve seen in my area.
We launched SweetWater Church in Abita Springs last year. We chose not to include Baptist in our name first, because of the defunct Baptist work in the area, second, because of the negative impression that the denomination has.
Interestingly enough, after reading all these comments I am more galvanised in my stance to maintain “Baptist” in our church name.
Follow the convictions God has given you.
I am a Nazarene Pastor. The Church of the Nazarene is very dear to my heart. In fact I often tell people that The Church the Nazarene literally saved my life. However it is more about how that little church embraced me and my family that made the difference than the name. In fact I think in an increasingly post Christian society the argument that Names identify theology is a bit of an overreach. One is that lets take the name Baptist…there are dozens of different baptists churches and each one has at least a little different perspective on theology. Lastly and I think most importantly a lot of people not all but a lot do not have the slightest idea what theology is communicated by the name. In my case (Nazarene) we have struggled with this for years. Unless you are familiar with our holiness roots you would have no idea what Nazarene means. I think changing the name removes a barrier for people to be introduced to your church. It is not a bait and switch…people are coming to church becuase they are either curious or they are searching for God. I say let’s introduce them to God through each of our theological perspectives.
Good points, Scott.
Our Southern Baptist church has been discussing the denomination name before Covid-19.
The arguments you list covers most of the comments. The one argument you list I am curious about is; Baptist was the most negative name! I would like to know the demographics and number of responses and regions this survey was sent to!
We are not promoting this issue right now because we are in a capital campaign and want to keep unity in the church. I say that, believing that, it is a minority that are not in favor.
We are located in Lincoln NE and the concept some people have of the Baptist Church is ridiculous! I believe some of that comes from a Church in Kansas, that calls themselves (Baptist), that protest veteran funerals! We aren’t part of that group!
We promote changing our name, not to fool people but to eliminate a reason for millennials not attending because of the denominal name.
We would still include SBC on our website with our new name.
My grandfather, Emil Bonikowsky, was a Baptist pastor in Northwestern Ukraine before and after the 1st World War, exiled to Siberia in the interim period. He is long deceased but I am proud to be his grandson and have served in Spain for 42 years. Many times what was written in his years as a pastor in Ukraine were an inspiration for me. I am a Baptist believing fully in our Baptist distinctives and understanding of the Scriptures. I am retired in the area of Seattle and am saddened to see churches whose “about us” in their websites informs us that they “used to be” a Baptist Church. I am member of an independent Baptist Church here and we have people who have found the Lord and are growing in their understanding of the christian life. Without belonging to any organization or grouping of Baptists, we can enjoy fellowship with hundreds of Baptist churches of like faith and belief. I’m afraid that too many people listen to stuff about failings in churches, particularily Baptist, because there are so many of them and a bad apple, who should inmediately be dismissed from any particular church, gets lots of news. I’m pretty sure all these “community” churches have just as many problems with moral failures and don’t get as much criticisms. Something moral happening in a “community” church probably won’t draw much attention. Unless you go to a “community” church for a while, you don’t really know what they believe. A strong Baptist church will continue to give strong testimony of the saving grace of the Gospel until Jesus comes. God bless, Al
It’s like you were listening in on our church dialogue over the last couple of months! You are spot on. 52 year old, Converge church with Baptist roots and about 1000 congregants in Wilmington, DE. We are seeking to drop our Baptist and DBA Brandywine Valley Church, representing our area we serve. Nothing is changing about doctrine, distinctives, etc. although when you mess with a church name you mess with people’s childhood/family memories. That’s the reason issue. Our recent church survey indicated we have about 20% who are opposed, 15% don’t care and 65% supportive. I don’t know what to make of fact that the day after we did our survey the news about the SBC broke…I wonder how that would have changed our numbers…We’ve done a good deal of research, Q&A, and a message I did from the pulpit. It is our plan to make this change in September. If our story and experience walking through this is helpful to you I’m happy to talk, share with you. And if you have any advice, I’d love to get it!
I bet the number opposed would drop after the SBC news broke. In fact, I would predict it would be 85% supportive, 10% opposed, and 5% don’t care.
The sad part of this conversation was captured well with a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) colleague years ago. He was a Reform Judaism Rabbinic student. One thing he always told me was he was, and always will be, unapologetically Jewish (by faith). His counsel was, never apologize for being Christian, never apologize for being Episcopalian, and never apologize for the practice of your faith. There may be need to apologize (explain) doctrine and dogma (in his case the difference between Reform Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, and Hasidic Judaism) but the principles are principles.
I agree with the argument, to drop the denominational part of the church’s name but not leave the denomination is misleading. Interestingly, one of the local churches was named “Oakland Christian Church” for most of its life, when there was division over sexuality and gender, those who left took the name “Suffolk Christian Church” and those that stayed added “Oakland Christian United Church of Christ.” Those who stayed didn’t change how they practiced, they simply made a more overt statement of doctrine.
We dropped not only our denominational name—we dropped the denomination about 9-10 years ago! Our church was part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for over 100 years, but they continued to stray so far from the Bible that we had enough. We are now simply Drennon Christian Church, and affiliate with no denomination at all. We didn’t want anyone to associate us with such beliefs.