The Washington Post published an article entitled, “Shrinking Flock Examines Its Identity, Churches Renamed to Escape Stigma Some Say ‘Baptist’ Carries.” It’s an interesting read with too many issues to discuss here. There are various identifiable factors which led to a near demise of Baptist Temple in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s a dying church which opted for a name change as a strategy for broader appeal in its diverse cultural context. The article explores this strategy as an option for struggling churches. Schulte affirms the argument that denominational distinction in a church’s name is a hindrance or “turn off” in many communities. While I believe that denominational labels can negatively impact a church (I realized this when starting a church in Tampa, Florida in 1995) a name change strategy cannot be a church’s sole approach for growth and community identity. There’s a lot that goes into a name.
Let me explain. If you’re going to change your name to appeal to a broader audience, that’s an external change. The name change should reflect a previous internal change reflecting transformation in ministry models. You can’t just change your name and serve the same sub-standard ministry model and expect good results. A name change doesn’t earn community credibility; this stuff is earned through relevant ministry. If you change your name and don’t change your model, the attempt is seen more as a “hood winking” than a sincere attempt at relevance. If you change the name, you must change the way you do business.
To be brutally honest, some churches just need to die. Because of a set of circumstance both internal and external, congregations dwindle down to a few who continue on because they remember when. It’s time to wake up and recognize the new reality. Lock the door and turn off the lights for the last time. Give the property to another church or merge with another congregation, these are potentially promising options. Find a congregation with a vision for multi-site work or a plan to do something different than your current model. Sometimes hanging on (with a handful of members) because of sentimentality or a diehard mentality can do more damage for members and community witness than if they just “pulled the plug.”
After reading this article, I’m not certain Baptist Temple or Commonwealth Baptist Church will make it. There are too many issues here and people are not looking to connect with organizations that have lots of unresolved issues. People are looking for a place to help them resolve their personal concerns. Secondly, if it took this much energy to change the name, can you imagine what it will take to change the model?