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Should We Keep ‘Baptist’ in the Church Name?

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I have the privilege of serving a wonderful church that has been in the suburban Kansas City area for 175 years called First Baptist Raytown. My family has been here for nearly five years now and it’s been exciting to watch God work. This year was a pivotal moment for us as we became one church in two locations. We have merged with another church, in nearby Lee’s Summit, Missouri, which will become our first satellite campus. So this exciting venture leaves us with a very real dilemma? What do we do about our church name?

The Issues with Our Church Name

We can’t be First Baptist Raytown in Lee’s Summit. And we’ve been advised countless times not to use two different names for our two locations as it 1) doesn’t unify us as one church, and 2) it creates confusion among those we’re trying to reach. (You would never find a business calling itself one name in one location and a completely different name in another location. That’s what you call a marketing disaster!)

If your church ever navigates through a similar process, you may have to wrestle with this dilemma. Do we keep our denominational affiliation in our church name? In our case, would we keep “Baptist” in our church’s new name? I believe the short answer is: It depends. It depends mainly on that church’s target audience of who they are trying to reach.
Now I’ve personally been on both sides of this debate. You can probably find old sermons I preached a decade ago about how churches that are removing “Baptist” from their name are trying too hard to become “seeker-friendly,” “emergent,” and were diluting their message. But over the years, my opinion has shifted on this issue.

Here are 10 reasons why I believe it’s beneficial, at least in our situation, to not have “Baptist” in our new church name.

1. Our mission is to reach the 85% in the Kansas City metropolitan area who do not go to church.

As far as we can tell, 85% of our community is lost. Because of this, the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has deemed Kansas City as a “Send City.” More dollars and resources for church planting and evangelism are being allocated here and other key cities in the United States more than any other region. So for me, the answer to any church’s question of “Should we keep our denomination in our church name?” is simple. It depends on your demographics. If you are in a region of the deep South where the majority of the population attends some church, then having a denominational name might actually help you to grow!  There are a lot of church people looking for a church like the one they grew up in. Yet if your predominate mission field is comprised of the unchurched – like Kansas City’s 85% – then your denominational name can actually be problematic. Denominational names were a positive back when the church was speaking to Christians who were looking for a church. But when we are talking about reaching those in a post-Christian era, it can either be a neutral thing at best or it can be a very big barrier at worse.

According to a recent survey, churches with a denominational reference in their name (vs. none) are:

  • Three times more likely to be perceived as “formal.”
  • Three times more likely to be perceived as “old-fashioned.”
  • Almost three times more likely to be perceived as “structured and rigid.”
  • The same study showed that the unchurched believe that a church with a denomination in their name would be less welcoming to visitors.

Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Resources for the Southern Baptist Convention, recently conducted a survey to ask people “What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Baptist”? The top responses are as follows:

  1. Legalism
  2. Potluck
  3. Immersion
  4. John the Baptist
  5. Traditional
  6. Bible
  7. Outdated
  8. Southern
  9. Boring
  10. Conservative
  11. Sound theologically
  12. Fundamentalism
  13. Hymns
  14. Suits and ties
  15. Missions

Here are some responses that just missed the top 15: fighting, inerrancy, business meetings, men only, eternal security, Sunday school, Republican, religious liberty, pre-millennial, choirs, no alcohol, no dancing, and altar calls. Not all of those things are bad, but taken together collectively, it’s a perception that we don’t want to project.

So we have to determine our target audience. If we determine that our mission is to reach more Baptists, then we need to keep Baptist in the church name. If our mission is the reach the 85%, then we need to rethink whether or not we should have “Baptist” in the church name.

2. Many folks are unlikely to visit a Baptist church if they did not “grow up Baptist.”

I’ve had this conversation play out many times when I’m inviting people to visit our church. Their response oftentimes is, “Well, I didn’t grow up Baptist.” I’m thinking, “Who cares what denomination you grew up? This is an incredible church you need to come visit, regardless of your upbringing.”  Yet some folks shy away from a church that is different than the denomination they grew up in, but studies show that the same person will visit a church that is denominationally non-descript.

3. An unchurched person’s “bad experience” in one Baptist church causes them to stereotype all other Baptist churches as the same.

One bad experience in one restaurant will likely cause you to avoid that chain of restaurants for the rest of your life.